LANDOVER, Md. — Earlier in the game Sunday, before he caught the game-winning touchdown pass, Eagles wide receiver Greg Ward was talking with Redskins cornerback Josh Norman.
Norman is a trash-talker, but this wasn’t trash talk. Furthest thing from it. Ward was telling Norman how he couldn’t believe that he actually was getting the chance to play against the nine-year veteran.
“I was telling him that it was crazy just playing against him,’’ Ward said. “He was one of the guys I’d see play on TV, and here I was going up against him.’’
It’s been a long wait for Ward. Undrafted. Converted from a college quarterback to a receiver. Spending the better part of three years on the Eagles’ practice squad. A stint in a short-lived spring league.
He had every reason to say the hell with it and quit and get on with his life. Every reason to believe he’d never make it in the NFL. But despite what he told Norman Sunday, he always believed that he eventually would make it.
“You’ve got to look down the road,’’ said Ward after catching seven passes, including the four-yard game-winner from Carson Wentz with 26 seconds left in the Eagles’ 37-27 win over Washington.
“You can’t just look at how things are right now. You’ve got to keep working and keep praying and keep your head down and stay with it. I wasn’t going to quit until I did it.’’
Late last month, the Eagles brought him up from the practice squad for the second time this season. The first time was just for one game and two snaps and then back down to play the role of the opponent on the scout team. This time was different.
He caught six passes in the Eagles’ Week 12 loss to Seattle. Caught four more in last week’s come-from-behind overtime win over the Giants, including a pair of big catches on the Eagles’ game-tying and game-winning touchdown drives. His days on the practice squad were over.
On Sunday, he had four of his seven catches on the Eagles’ game-winning scoring drive, including the TD against Norman.
“I can’t say enough good things about Greg,’’ Wentz said after the game. “For him to keep coming up big late in the game like that, they went to man coverage and he just kept beating his guy. He was part of the progression and just kept making plays. And then, to go up and get that ball in the end zone like that, that was sweet.’’
The play they ran for the game-winning TD was similar to the one they had run earlier in the fourth quarter on Zach Ertz’s two-yard touchdown catch from Wentz. Ertz was wide open on that play. But the Redskins learned their lesson and had him covered the next time.
“Zach was the first read, but they had him covered,’’ Wentz said. “So I just reset and found Greg running across [the end zone]. I just put it up. I knew he had a step on Josh. I just put it up and gave him a chance.’’
Earlier in the drive, Ward caught a 13-yard pass from Wentz on third-and-5. Caught another 13-yarder on a second-and-12 that gave the Eagles a first down at the Washington 15 with less than two minutes to go.
Then he got the Eagles another first down when he hauled in a 10-yard pass from Wentz on a second-and-9 on the play before his touchdown catch.
Not bad for a kid who was catching passes for the San Antonio Commanders of the Alliance of American Football this spring.
“I’m just truly blessed,’’ Ward said. “I’ve been through a lot, but I’m here now and that’s all that matters.’’
Asked what was running through his mind after catching the game-winning TD from Wentz, he said, “I was thinking about my parents. I was thinking about my brothers and my sisters and my whole family. I was thankful to be in that position. That was my first (NFL) touchdown catch and it was a game-winner. Just to be able to make that play, I’m thankful.’’
The Eagles made sure to get the ball he caught on the play. Ward said he intends to ship it to his mom in Tyler, Texas, on Monday.
Earlier in the game, Ward caught a six-yard pass from Wentz on a third-and-3 that set up the Eagles’ first touchdown, a one-yard touchdown run by rookie Miles Sanders.
Wentz has trust in Ward. He was among the receivers who worked out with Wentz this summer in Houston before the start of training camp.
The 5-11, 174-pound wideout also got a lot of practice reps with Wentz and the rest of the first-team offense this summer during camp before he was cut for the third time in as many years.
“A late-game drive and he just kept making plays,’’ Wentz said. “He’s been here for a couple of years now. We’ve seen what he can do. He was down there (in Houston) this summer with us. So I’ve been around Greg plenty. And I know what he can do and what he’s capable of. For him to do it today was big.’’
Ward’s background as a quarterback at the University of Houston has helped him make the transition to wide receiver and quickly get on the same page with Wentz.
“He understood what he likes in route-running when he was a quarterback,’’ said Ertz. “He runs great routes. He’s extremely quarterback-friendly with the way he runs routes. Carson has a lot of trust in him.’’