It took four seasons for quarterback Carson Wentz to finally get a postseason start for the Eagles, and only eight plays for that long-awaited opportunity to come to an end.
Much more took place during the 17-9 wild-card round loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, but the concussion that removed Wentz from the game can serve as a fitting coda to the team’s injury-wracked 2019 season.
The job of leading the offense past the Seahawks fell to 40-year-old backup Josh McCown, who, like Wentz, had never appeared in a playoff game, despite having played for nine teams during a 17-season career.
McCown had his moments, but not enough of them, and late drives that could have tied the game stalled on failed fourth-down attempts. On the other side of the line of scrimmage, the defense couldn’t bottle up elusive Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, particularly on some crucial third-down conversions.
It was a deflating way for everything to end after the Eagles rallied at the close of the regular season to win four straight games, any one of which would have eliminated them had they lost. It was especially deflating to lose without Wentz, whose recent play suggests he could have made the difference.
“You don’t know, but I would say ‘yes,’ ” coach Doug Pederson said. “If he was healthy, with the game plan we had, I think so. I’m disappointed for him. I wanted this for him. His teammates did, too. He’s battled through a lot.”
The battles at the end of this season made it possible that Wentz would finally get his playoff shot. By clinching the NFC East and earning a home game against the wild-card Seahawks, who had to fly cross-country for the matchup, the Eagles put themselves in position to build on the legend of their recent postseason history.
Their successes at the end of the 2017 and 2018 seasons were directed by backup Nick Foles, however, and while McCown wasn’t the reason they lost on Sunday, he didn’t change that outcome, either. The team will be questioned for not having a better reserve behind a starter who has now missed time in three straight seasons, but there is plenty of evidence the Eagles this season had more flaws than just that.
“You feel like you let people down and it’s a sick feeling,” McCown said. “Not getting it done hurts.”
Wentz suffered his head injury in the first quarter when he was forced to scramble away from pressure and was sacked for a 1-yard loss by Seattle safety Bradley McDougald. Just before Wentz hit the ground, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney landed on him from behind. Clowney’s helmet grazed Wentz’s helmet and the quarterback’s head bounced off the hard ground of Lincoln Financial Field. There was no penalty flag thrown on the play, but, flag or no flag, the damage was done.
Wentz finished the rest of the drive, but he was immediately taken into the concussion-testing protocol and did not pass the sideline screening. He went to the locker room during Seattle’s ensuing drive for further testing and didn’t return. Just after halftime, it was announced Wentz was out for the remainder of the game.
Seattle, meanwhile, took a 10-3 lead just before the half on a Marshawn Lynch touchdown, and got its final score midway through the third quarter when Wilson hit rookie receiver DK Metcalf with a 53-yard touchdown pass. It was only 17 points, but it was enough against a faltering Eagles offense.
Wilson extended several drives with third-and-long conversions that, even if those drives didn’t end with scores, took time off the clock and flipped field position. Seattle had eight plays that went for 20 yards or more. The Eagles had just two. It was a tribute to Wilson’s ability to create on the run, but it also wasn’t a great day for the Eagles’ defense in either coverage or tackling.
The final score was the same as when these teams met Nov. 24 during the regular season, but the games were far different. The Eagles committed five turnovers in that previous game and those miscues stunted an offense that was actually moving the ball pretty well. On Sunday, although McCown was able to gain some yardage against a soft, bend-don’t-break Seattle defense, the total of just three field goals didn’t cut it.
The Eagles did have two good chances in the fourth quarter to tie the game with a touchdown and two-point conversion. Those came on their final two drives, with one fourth-down effort going awry at the Seattle 25-yard line when Miles Sanders couldn’t hold onto a poor McCown pass, and the other crashing to earth on a fourth-and-7 at the 10-yard line when there was some confusion about the play call and McCown was sacked by Clowney.
McCown, who waited more than a decade longer than Wentz for his first postseason snaps, was visibly emotional as he came limping off the field.
“I’ve chased this my whole career,” he said. “You don’t want to be on the field under those circumstances … but it’s been a heck of a ride. I left it all out there. I know that much. At 40, your body talks to you a lot.”
As they left the field following the final whistle, it was still remarkable the Eagles had even taken part in the postseason. They finished the season without DeSean Jackson, Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Lane Johnson, Brandon Brooks, Jordan Howard, Corey Clement, Darren Sproles, Malik Jackson, Hassan Ridgeway, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Ronald Darby, and Daeshon Hall.
And, in the end, as they have done before, they also finished without Carson Wentz.