LANDOVER, Md. — Carson Wentz wanted one more chance.
The Eagles quarterback had fumbled for the third time Sunday, and this one, finally, the Washington Redskins recovered. Wentz watched from the bench as Washington took the ball at the Eagles’ 34 with 6 minutes, 28 seconds remaining, the score tied.
The Eagles defense, after spending much of the day making rookie Washington quarterback Dwayne Haskins look like Patrick Mahomes, had to get a stop, had to at least force a field-goal try.
“I love the fight in us. When all could have fell, on that strip of Carson, we made a big stop. They score a touchdown right there, we might not be talking like this,” defensive end Brandon Graham said.
Graham and his battered teammates made Washington settle for the field goal, and a three-point lead. Then Wentz took the Eagles 75 yards on 11 plays, four of them passes to former practice squad receiver Greg Ward, for the game-winning touchdown in what became a 37-27 Eagles victory.
It was the second final-minutes comeback for Wentz in as many weeks and it set up a showdown for the NFC East lead next week at Lincoln Financial Field with the Dallas Cowboys, who kept pace at 7-7 by easily swatting away the visiting Los Angeles Rams, 44-21.
“Through the good, the bad, and the ugly, guys just kept believing,” Wentz said. “I had the fumble. Everybody was cheering me up and getting me going. Defense had the big stop, and we just kept believing.”
“I was trying to make a play and improvise, and I got to protect the ball,” said Wentz, who has lost seven fumbles this season. “I was definitely frustrated at myself. … I didn’t lose faith or confidence at all. I just wanted one more chance, I wanted another chance to go down, and the defense gave it to us.”
Wentz was backpedaling when he lofted the ball to Ward in the corner of the end zone, Ward having crossed the field a step ahead of Washington corner Josh Norman, who went up with Ward and tugged at his arm, to no avail. With 26 seconds remaining, Ward cradled his first NFL touchdown ball, hugged it with the passion of a man who has been through three preseasons and a stint in the Alliance of American Football before finally getting his chance.
“I’m blessed, and I’m thankful. I’ve been working a lot just to make that play,” said Ward, who kept the football to give to his mother. The touchdown was the last of his seven catches for 61 yards.
“I got good leverage on [Norman] and it was a race to the pylon. Carson just threw it up and I made a play.”
“The moments — the strong rise up,” Graham said. “To see G. Ward to go out there and make that catch, in that moment, that’s to win it all. I’m loving it for him.”
Wentz said: “I can only say good things about Greg. They went into man coverage multiple times and he beat his guy.”
Ward now has 18 catches for 140 yards in the last four games and no one outside the Eagles’ coaching staff seems to have any idea why he languished so long on the practice squad, with the team parched for offensive weapons.
Much like the week before, there was a lot the Eagles and Wentz could have done better, but the bottom line was that Wentz went 18-for-21 for 141 yards and three touchdowns in the second half, and he completed all 11 of his passes in the fourth quarter, for 89 yards and 2 TDs. He was 8-for-8 for 70 yards on the final drive.
“There’s not a lot that really just bothers him, or the team, or the offense,” coach Doug Pederson said. “We know that bad things and negative plays are going to happen. You saw today that we overcome, and we hang together, and we hang tough, and in Carson’s case, that’s exactly who he is. That’s who we know he is, as our quarterback and our leader.”
The bottom line also had a lot to do with the continued blossoming of Miles Sanders, on a day when the Eagles were missing all three starting receivers from their season-opening victory over Washington, plus steady running back Jordan Howard.
Sanders broke DeSean Jackson’s franchise rookie record for yards from scrimmage (Sanders now has 1,120) and LeSean McCoy’s rookie rushing record (Sanders has 687), with two games remaining.
Sanders rushed for 122 yards on 19 carries (6.4 yards per carry) and a touchdown. He caught six passes on six targets for 50 yards and a highlight-reel TD, on one of the best throws of Wentz’s career.
This came in the third quarter, second-and-9 from the Washington 15, Wentz sprinting to his right with defenders in pursuit. On a dead run, he lasered the ball to Sanders in the back corner of the end zone.
“I saw him sitting in the back,” Wentz said. “I knew it was tight. I had to let it rip. … Once I saw it hit him in the chest, I was happy.”
“I tried to stay in the corner, because the linebacker that was on me thought I was going to go across the end zone,” Sanders said. “I’m happy Carson saw me, and I just tried to make a good catch.”
Eagles fans who bet on their team and gave 4.5 points rejoiced on the game’s final snap, when Nigel Bradham scooped up Haskins’ fumble and took it 47 yards for the touchdown that set the final margin.
Avonte Maddox, who forced the fumble, said he was looking for some Eagles fans in the end zone seats to do a “FedEx Field leap” into, and he had no trouble finding them, on a day when the crowd seemed evenly split.
That play, following the stop after the Wentz fumble, mitigated a fairly disastrous first three quarters for Jim Schwartz’s defense. Haskins, who came in with a 61.2 passer rating that was the worst of any NFL starter, completed his first six passes and seven of his first eight, for 130 yards and two touchdowns. His first read always seemed open, and the Eagles front wasn’t getting much pressure against an unimpressive Washington offensive line.
Terry McLaurin, the rookie wide receiver Washington drafted a round after the Eagles took J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, caught a 75-yard touchdown pass to give his team a 7-3 lead. It was just like that early touchdown Darius Slayton scored last week for the Giants, except this time it was Maddox, not Ronald Darby, who whiffed on the tackle attempt.
Graham said he couldn’t explain the defense’s lapses.
“It ain’t no guarantees in this game. … They just made some plays in there,” he said.
Washington, now 3-11, led 14-10 at halftime and 21-17 after the first play of the fourth quarter, when Adrian Peterson started to run to his left, saw he was about to be swarmed by Eagles, turned around, and sprinted the other way 10 yards for a touchdown.
“The style points don’t give you an extra win or anything,” Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins noted.
No, but given how Dallas looked Sunday, the Eagles are going to have to come out much sharper, make fewer mistakes, and take fewer penalties to take the division lead next Sunday.
Pederson mentioned that the Eagles were playing on a short week, after their Monday night victory over the Giants, but some of these were the same mistakes we saw in that game, and in the Miami loss the week before.
The Eagles’ best hope might be that they get back Howard, and defensive end Derek Barnett, along with maybe wideout Nelson Agholor and right tackle Lane Johnson. Otherwise, they wouldn’t seem to match up very well with the Cowboys’ array of weapons.
“We left some opportunities out there, for sure,” Bradham said. “[But] we’re on a roll right now, and that’s all we can ask for.”