With the exception of the constant downpour, the conditions seemed favorable Sunday for a turnaround game from Carson Wentz.
With the return of left guard Isaac Seumalo, the Eagles’ offensive line was as healthy as it had been since the beginning of the season.
The Eagles also seemed to catch a break earlier in the week when Browns defensive end Myles Garrett, the league’s best pass rusher, was placed on the team’s reserve/COVID-19 list.
Wentz, who had been sacked a league-high 35 times and had been under pressure on nearly 40% of his dropbacks in the first nine games, might actually get some time to throw.
That turned out to be wishful thinking.
Even with Seumalo back, even with Garrett in isolation, Wentz still ended up spending another miserable Sunday afternoon on his back.
Wentz was sacked five more times in the Eagles’ 22-17 loss, including four times on third down, and once in the end zone for a safety. He threw two more interceptions, bringing his season turnover count to 18 (14 interceptions, four lost fumbles).
He also was hit several times, including a costly shot in the back by Browns cornerback Denzel Ward early in the second quarter as he was throwing a pass to running back Miles Sanders. Ward’s hit caused Wentz’s pass to hang in the air, where it was intercepted by Browns linebacker Sione Takitaki and returned 50 yards for a touchdown.
The blame for the interception actually belonged to the broken clock in Wentz’s head. As he often does, he hung on to the ball too long and never saw the hit from Ward coming.
But for much of the game, his offensive line once again let him down. Olivier Vernon picked up the slack for Garrett and sacked Wentz three times, including the third-quarter safety. Vernon was chipped by slot receiver Greg Ward and double-teamed by Seumalo and left tackle Jason Peters, but managed to split the double-team and deck Wentz to give the Browns a 12-7 lead at the time.
The 38-year-old Peters had another rough game. It’s uncertain how much of it has to do with injury and how much has to do with feet that don’t move the way they did earlier in his career when he was an athletic freak. It’s probably a little of both.
Either way, Vernon and the Browns’ other defensive end, Adrian Clayborn, ate the nine-time Pro Bowler’s lunch Sunday.
Vernon beat Peters for a second-quarter sack on a third-and-3 play. Clayborn also beat the future Hall of Famer for a sack in the second quarter on a second-and-10 play. Vernon beat him again on the safety.
Peters, who missed three games earlier this season with a toe injury, limped off the field in the first quarter with an undetermined injury. He returned but left the game again for good in the fourth quarter. He was replaced by Jordan Mailata.
Right tackle Lane Johnson, who has been battling ankle issues all season that sidelined him for three games, also left the game in the fourth quarter.
Johnson clearly isn’t right. The former All-Pro gave up a sack to Vernon in the third quarter on a three-man rush, in which the Browns defensive end was able to push Johnson back into Wentz’s path. Vernon is a solid pass rusher, but that just doesn’t happen when Johnson is playing on two healthy legs.
As if that wasn’t enough, center Jason Kelce injured his left elbow in the second quarter when he banged it on running back Miles Sanders’ helmet. He sat out the Eagles’ final possession of the first half, replaced by undrafted rookie Luke Juriga.
After he came out of the game, Kelce stubbornly refused to go into the team’s sideline medical tent. He went to the locker room, had the training staff put a thick sleeve on the elbow, and returned to start the second half.
Kelce had so little flexibility in his left arm that he needed help from Seumalo to buckle his chinstrap. But the 33-year-old All-Pro didn’t miss another snap.
“I don’t know his exact injury, I just know that’s a tough son of a gun,” Sanders said of Kelce. “Probably the toughest player on our team. He plays through whatever and does whatever it takes to stay on the field and help us win.”
The Eagles rushed for 96 yards on 19 carries in the first half. Sanders had 63 of those yards on 11 carries. But their rushing success didn’t seem to help them protect Wentz. He was sacked on two third-and-3s, a third-and-4, and a third-and-8 (the safety). Fourteen of Wentz’s 40 sacks this season have been on third down.
Peters re-signed with the Eagles to help fill the void left by right guard Brandon Brooks’ injury. But then left tackle Andre Dillard tore his biceps before the start of the season and Peters was moved back outside.
But he is not the player he was five or six years ago, or even three years ago. You can hide age and a loss of mobility inside. You can’t hide it at tackle. That was painfully evident again Sunday.
“It’s difficult,” coach Doug Pederson said. “Part of the [key to success for an] offensive line is having that group together. All five guys. We just haven’t had that this season.
“It’s hard to get that continuity and that consistency up front. It’s a challenge. The thing with the O-line is they rely on each other, right? The more they play together, the more they anticipate what a defense might present. Any time you have as many moving pieces as we’ve had, it throws that rhythm out.”