Carson Wentz started his week trying to pinpoint what went wrong in the worst start of his young NFL career before preparing for the toughest defense he has seen to date. There was enough to occupy Wentz's attention leading up to Sunday's game against the undefeated Minnesota Vikings that facing the player whose job he took was not among them.
Sam Bradford's return to Philadelphia makes for a ripe story line and will likely remain a popular discussion point into the broadcast on Sunday. But Wentz insisted that he won't "get caught up in that." Those who know both quarterbacks suggest it won't be a factor; this is not an Aaron Rodgers-Brett Favre dynamic.
"I know both of their demeanors - I think Carson doesn't care, and I think Sam cares even less," wide receiver Jordan Matthews said. "To be honest, I don't think it's anything they're even worried about. . . . Even when Carson came, that was the ultimate in let's try to see if something happens with this friction. And there was no friction in the building when Sam and Carson were here. That's just the type of guys they are. Both of them get to be the captains of the ships on two teams that are really competing in this league. I think the last thing they're worried about are each other."
Wentz clearly benefited from the decision to trade Bradford. What could have been a redshirt season instead put Wentz on the field from Week 1. That allowed the development that has excited Philadelphia to occur instead of having Wentz run the scout team and watch the game with a tablet on the sideline.
Even if the timing was not ideal for Bradford, he is now a starter for a playoff contender and is off to the best start of his career. That was why Eagles coach Doug Pederson labeled the trade a "win-win" - and he doesn't want Sunday's game to be viewed as a referendum on the deal, nor does he want Wentz to shoulder that burden.
"You know, there's pressure every week," Pederson said. "I get the fact that the trade happened. But our focus is within our building and the guys we have and getting our guys ready to play. I'm not going to put any added pressure on Carson. . . . I know there's going to be a lot of peripheral stuff probably said or written about these two. Whoever plays or whoever wins, this one played better than that one, this and that and the other, and the decisions - and I get all that. But the decision has been made and [Carson] is our guy, and we're going to get him ready to play each and every week."
During the first three games, it was hard to fathom how the Eagles planned to keep Wentz on the bench this season. While leading the Eagles to a 3-0 start, Wentz played with the poise of someone with Bradford's seven years experience. He was having so much success that there were no questions about whether the Eagles would have functioned better with Bradford.
Two consecutive losses did not tarnish his shine, but Wentz knows there are areas in which he must improve. He threw his first interception of the season during a potential game-winning drive in Week 5, and he was sacked five times while throwing for only 179 yards last week. Wentz needs more help from the offensive line - rookie Halapoulivaati Vaitai must improve in his second start - and the wide receivers must create more separation. But Wentz did not absolve himself when assessing what must be fixed.
"I've just got to make better decisions," Wentz said. "I've got to be more accurate. I've got to get the guys going a little better, too - some of the discipline things, some of the penalties, I need to make sure everyone's focused. I need to come in that huddle and make sure everyone's locked in. Those are things we're always trying to get better at, and I'm the biggest critic of myself. We all have to get better, and it starts with me."
Pederson also believes he can help Wentz with the play-calling. He said he must remember that Wentz is still a young quarterback, and he does not want to "overload him with a lot of information, a lot of new plays, a lot of new designs." Pederson wanted to "keep things very familiar" for this game, and hope that leads to more execution.
The Eagles did not restrict the offense when Wentz was promoted, but they tailored it to his strengths. Offensive coordinator Frank Reich estimated that 10 percent of the offense changed after the Bradford trade, with more run-pass options for Wentz and some passing plays that fit Wentz's preference. Reich said the young quarterbacks he's been around have mostly been deferential to the coaching staff about plays to run, but Wentz has a "very strong opinion" about what he likes and has the relationships with the coaches to communicate on a level that belies his rookie status.
In his four months around Wentz, Bradford saw indications that Wentz could be a high-level quarterback. Bradford's approach toward work was very business-like, and he didn't spend much time at the team facility socializing or mentoring Wentz. The relationship was cordial and he would answer whatever questions arose, but Bradford was learning the offense and preparing for the season. There was no animosity, and Bradford sounded happy for his successor this past week.
"It's been awesome to see him play the way he has," Bradford said. "It really doesn't surprise me. I think if you look at him, where he came in in OTAs, the progress he made, the way he was playing at the end of training camp, he was playing at a really high level."
How Bradford would have functioned in the offense this season will "always be a question mark," Bradford said, but he was optimistic about the way he played during the summer and the coaches were bullish on Bradford's prospects. Wentz acknowledged how much he benefited from the chance to play early, and he said it's the "What If Game" to wonder how his development would have been stunted with Bradford still in the mix. But even if the trade was a "win-win," only one quarterback can win Sunday.
"I don't get caught up in that," Wentz said. "It's the Vikings vs. the Eagles. They're coming in here, and it'll be a good one."