Is the ghost of Nick Foles haunting Carson Wentz?
Nick Foles is gone, but Carson Wentz is having a hard time escaping the shadow of Nick's Super Bowl heroics.
As many people who have held the position will attest, Philadelphia can be a very difficult place to be the town quarterback.
That realization was in the forefront of Andy Reid’s mind before the 1999 draft, when he was trying to decide among Donovan McNabb, Akili Smith, and Daunte Culpepper.
And it was in the forefront of Howie Roseman’s and Doug Pederson’s minds three years ago, when they used the second pick in the 2016 draft on Carson Wentz.
“When we sat down with him, we asked him, ‘Do you feel any pressure coming to a big city like Philadelphia?’’’ Roseman said two years ago. “And his answer was, ‘I play in front of a sold-out crowd every week. I played in [FCS] national championship games. What’s the difference going to be?’ ’’
Needless to say, it didn’t take Wentz long to find out the difference. The NFL isn’t the FCS, and Philly definitely ain’t Fargo, North Dakota.
Especially when you lose.
He was reminded of that again Sunday, after his poor performance in the Eagles’ 17-10 loss to the Patriots. Wentz completed just 20 of 40 passes for 214 yards, had a costly fumble, and was sacked five times in a game that the Eagles squandered away.
Wentz, who just two years ago was the league’s top MVP candidate before tearing his ACL, is 18th in the league in passing (91.4), 31st in yards per attempt (6.6), and 27th in completion percentage (61.2) on an underperforming 5-5 team.
Earlier this week, head coach Doug Pederson suggested that, for whatever reason, Wentz might be pressing a little bit and trying to do too much.
“He doesn’t have to feel like he has to make all the plays,’’ Pederson said.
Wentz pretty much agreed with that assessment on Wednesday.
“I need to try not to do too much,’’ he said. “Just stay ahead of the chains. Be efficient on first and second downs and trust the guys around me. I feel like I’ve done that well at times. Sometimes, though, you get greedy and try to make plays and force the ball.’’
After playing 16 games as a rookie in 2016, Wentz had his last two seasons cut short by injuries -- the torn ACL in 2017 and a broken bone in his back last year.
In both years, backup Nick Foles came riding to the rescue. He led the Eagles to their first Super Bowl title in ’17 and was at the offensive controls last year, as they won their final three regular-season games to make the playoffs, then came within 27 yards of making it to the NFC Championship Game.
Foles signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars in March. But in many ways, what he accomplished here still is haunting Wentz.
“He’s going to carry around the fact that he wasn’t the starting quarterback in that Super Bowl run until he makes his own Super Bowl run,’’ said Fox Sports analyst Charles Davis, who, with partner Kevin Burkhardt, will call Sunday’s Eagles-Seahawks game.
“To me, that’s part of the pressing. He wants to prove that he’s that guy," Davis said. "It’s always going to linger there. Because you have all of these people saying, ‘Oh, yeah, he’s great. But Foles won the Super Bowl.’ I don’t care who you are. Being human, that’s going to affect you.
“This is a kid who cares. This is a kid who wants to be great. But he’s dealing with a lot of stuff. To me, it’s like the baseball player that wants to hit the five-run homer. You can’t do it. It’s just not possible. You’ve got to hit the ones in front of you, though. And he missed a few of those on Sunday.’’
Wentz is a mentally strong individual. But two major injuries in two years is a lot to deal with. So is watching from the sideline as someone else leads your team to the Super Bowl.
"I’m no psychologist and don’t pretend to be one,'' Davis said. "But if you just lay it all out and you go back to that time, the guy was going to be the league MVP. He gets hurt. The other guy
comes in. It doesn’t look great in the beginning, but they right the ship, and they win the Super Bowl, and Nick is the MVP.
"You’re happy for your team, but you’re eating your heart out because it wasn’t you. You come back the next year. You work, you fight, you scratch, you claw. You take your job back. And then you get hurt again. And here comes that same backup, and they have a great run in the playoffs with a team that had to struggle to get there.''
This was supposed to be the season that changed things. This was supposed to be the year that Wentz played the role of the hero. Still could happen. But the odds are against it.
The Eagles opened this season with one idea of how their offense was going to work. Then DeSean Jackson got hurt. Then Alshon Jeffery got hurt. Then Nelson Agholor started playing like it was 2015 again. So much for explosiveness and lighting up the scoreboard.
Now, the Eagles have morphed into a slow-moving tight end-centric offense that wants to ground and pound and control the football and win 21-10. Except they didn’t have their best grounder and pounder, Jordan Howard, last week (stinger), and they lost Pro Bowl right tackle Lane Johnson in the second quarter, and the Patriots took away tight end Zach Ertz on third down, and Wentz pressed, and the Eagles scored one touchdown. And they needed a replay reversal to get that one.
Wentz has thrown just two interceptions in the last eight games and has the league’s seventh best interception percentage. That’s good, but not throwing a lot of interceptions isn’t why the Eagles made him one of the league’s highest-paid quarterbacks.
In 2017, before he shredded his knee, he threw a league-high 33 touchdown passes. Averaged one every 13.3 attempts. Through 10 games this season he has just 16. He’s 17th in touchdown percentage (1 per 21.8 attempts).
“I think he’s played well for the most part,’’ Davis said. “But if it’s not translating into a lot of victories you’re not going to get credit for it. And then a game like New England, which is there for the taking, they don’t get it done.’’
“We have a lot of trust, a lot of confidence, that we can get it done,’’ Wentz said Wednesday. “We’ve got six games left. Hopefully, we can go on a run. I have confidence that guys are going to learn from their mistakes and grow.’’