For 28 minutes Sunday, Carson Wentz played like a league MVP, played like it was 2017 again.
Despite facing an intense rush from Washington’s defensive front, he completed 14 of his first 18 passes and seemed unstoppable.
He connected with his two tight ends – Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert – for a pair of touchdown passes that spotted the Eagles a 17-0 lead. The pass to Ertz was just five yards, but it was one of those red-zone plays that makes you appreciate how in-synch these two guys are.
Ertz lined up in the slot, faked a cut to the outside, then swerved inside, put his hand up to let Wentz know he was open, and voila, the ball was in his hands. Touchdown.
The second-quarter pass to Goedert was a deep ball that he delivered perfectly over his left shoulder so that the linebacker who was covering Goedert, Kevin Pierre-Louis, couldn’t knock it away.
Earlier, he threw another perfect over-the-shoulder deep ball, this one to rookie wide receiver Jalen Reagor for a 55-yard gain on a third-and-forever play that set up a Jake Elliott field goal.
And then, just like that, the music stopped. The magic vanished.
The final 32 minutes of Sunday’s 27-17 loss are going to make for painful viewing Monday at One NovaCare Way, particularly for Wentz.
There’s a lot of blame to go around for the collapse at FedEx Field. But the 27-year-old Eagles quarterback knows this one’s mainly on him.
“I’ve got to be better,” he acknowledged after the game.
Yes he does.
Wentz followed up that impressive 14-for-18, two-touchdown start Sunday by completing just 10 of his last 24 passes and turning the ball over three times, including two interceptions, as the Eagles lost their first season-opener in five years under Doug Pederson.
Wentz doesn’t throw interceptions very often. He had just seven in 600-plus pass attempts last year and only three in the final nine games. This was only his fourth multiple-interception game since his rookie season.
Washington cornerback Fabian Moreau jumped in front of Reagor to intercept a pass with 1:40 left in the first half that swung momentum toward the home team. The pick set up a five-play, 45-yard touchdown drive that made it 17-7.
Wentz threw his second pick early in the third quarter. Washington cornerback Jimmy Moreland jumped a route by rookie wide receiver John Hightower and returned the ball to the Philadelphia 20. Five plays later, Peyton Barber scored from a yard out to make it a 17-14 game.
“I’ve got to clean up those interceptions,” Wentz said. “I put our defense in a bad spot on a couple of occasions. We definitely lost the momentum and didn’t make the plays we needed to make. I’ve got to do better. Starts with me. I’ve got to protect the ball. Lead these guys better.”
It wasn’t just the interceptions. Wentz was off-target much of the second half. He had Ertz open in the red zone on the possession after Washington got within three and overthrew him. Two plays after that, he hung on to the ball too long and took one of his career-high eight sacks, which contributed to a missed 53-yard field goal attempt by Jake Elliott.
With the Eagles starting rookie Jack Driscoll at right tackle in place of injured Lane Johnson, and Nate Herbig, who played all of three snaps last season as an undrafted rookie, starting at right guard, Wentz was under pressure much of the game. He hasn’t been sacked eight times since, well, since probably ever.
But he insisted the beating he took from Washington’s defensive front didn’t make him, as a reporter suggested, “skittish.”
“It definitely didn’t make me skittish,” he said. "Some of the things I have to clean up. I might’ve had guys that I could’ve thrown to and gotten rid of the ball quicker [and didn’t].
“I missed some throws, but it didn’t have anything to do with being skittish or anything like that. That happens. But I have to be better.”
Late in the third quarter, he threw behind an open Reagor on a second-and-4 play. On the next play, he missed an open Greg Ward, which would have given the Eagles a first down.
A play later, Washington middle linebacker Jon Bostic came in untouched and decked Wentz for a nine-yard loss that gave Washington the ball at the Philadelphia 27. A game-tying field goal came shortly after that.
“It’s very frustrating,” said Wentz, whose 75.2 passer rating was his lowest since last year’s Week 2 loss to Atlanta (61.3), when he also threw two picks.
“It’s very frustrating walking off that field knowing the momentum we had and how we felt early in that game. We got off to a great start. Then it just kind of spiraled out of control, and the next thing you know, we were in second-and-15 situations multiple times in a row. We couldn’t get ahead of the chains and make plays.”
The Eagles averaged 7.1 yards per play on first down in the first 28 minutes. Averaged just 3.7 in the last 32. Wentz completed six of his first eight passes on first down, including the TDs to Ertz and Goedert.
He was 6-for-12 with two interceptions on first down after that.
It still was a one-score game with less than five minutes left in the fourth quarter. The Eagles had a third-and-3 near midfield. Wentz threw a deep ball to DeSean Jackson, which fell incomplete.
On fourth down, Wentz went to Ertz over the middle. The pass was on-target, but the ball went through the tight end’s hands.
“I just missed the one on third down,” Wentz said. "A bit of miscommunication that DeSean and I need to work through. I’ve got to give him a chance on that ball.
"I didn’t have a good angle on the fourth-down play, so I’m not sure [what happened]. But it definitely was a frustrating point in the game. We needed to go down and score. We had D-Jack. We had Ertz. I thought we were in the right place going with the ball. We just didn’t make the plays.