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McLane: Wentz struggles, but this loss is not on him

There were many ways to look at the 27-20 loss to the Redskins, but there could have been two contrary views of how Carson Wentz played in the Eagles' worst game of this still-young season.

There were many ways to look at the 27-20 loss to the Redskins, but there could have been two contrary views of how Carson Wentz played in the Eagles' worst game of this still-young season.

It could be said that the quarterback overcame the ineffectiveness of his offensive line, an obscene stretch without possession thanks in part to a woeful defense, and the inability of his receivers to get open downfield to have a workmanlike performance that kept the Eagles battling to the gun.

Or it could be said that Wentz played like a rookie, which, of course, he is after only five games. He allowed early pressure and sacks to rattle him, he threw high of open receivers and he held onto the ball far too long on the Eagles' last drive when situationally he should have known better.

"I've got to be better, especially late in the game," Wentz said Sunday. "Any time an offense has a chance to win at the end of the game and you come up short, it's frustrating. I put that on myself."

It was the second week in a row in which Wentz had the ball in a late-game situation and had the opportunity to either put the Eagles ahead or into a tie, and it was the second week in a row that he failed to rise to the occasion.

On Oct. 9 in Detroit, Wentz threw a deep pass to Nelson Agholor on the Eagles' first play of their final drive that was intercepted, when a more conservative throw considering the circumstances would have been prudent. It wasn't an egregious decision, and put into long-term perspective maybe not the wrong one, but it was costly.

And then on Sunday, Wentz advanced the offense into Redskins territory with two minutes to play. But he took consecutive sacks that forced the Eagles to punt on fourth and 24 and he never saw the ball again.

"I respect Coach's decision," Wentz said of Doug Pederson's decision to give the ball back to Washington with 1 minute, 38 seconds left. "At the time I was frustrated, but it was probably the right decision."

But Wentz had made a number of impressive throws in the fourth quarter that suggested maybe he was capable of pulling off a miracle. After completing just 5 of 11 passes for 54 yards through three quarters, he was 6 of 11 for 125 yards.

"I thought he bounced back and did a nice job," Pederson said Monday. "He stood in there, he delivered the football, made a couple nice throws on the run [and] out of the pocket. It was unfortunate the one came back on a penalty."

That pass came in the third quarter and it was the sort of athletic play that had first made Eagles coaches think they had something special in the spring. Wentz escaped the pocket, dodged a defender, and just as he was being hit, floated a pass across his body to Dorial Green-Beckham.

But a block-in-the-back penalty by Wendell Smallwood negated the 38-yard completion.

Wentz was under siege for most of the day. The decision to start Halapoulivaati Vaitai at right tackle had a cumulative effect on both the line and the offense. Pederson had to scheme protection help toward the rookie, and when he didn't, Vaitai was overmatched against Ryan Kerrigan.

Wentz was sacked on the first play when Kerrigan got around tight end Brent Celek and four plays later when the Redskins outside linebacker bulldozed Vaitai. On the quarterback's third pass, he rolled outside on a naked bootleg, but there was additional pressure after Vaitai missed his assignment and Wentz's throw sailed over an open Jordan Matthews.

High throws were a continual problem.

"It didn't change the way I played," Wentz said of the early pressure.

He seemed to gain momentum with consecutive completions on the Eagles' fourth series, but Kerrigan once again blew by Vaitai and sacked Wentz. It essentially killed that drive. The Eagles then went nearly 20 game-time minutes, aside from an end-of-the-half kneel, without a play on offense.

"We weren't really on the field much," Wentz said. "It was tough."

When the Eagles finally got the ball back with 8:40 left in the third quarter, they trailed, 24-14. Vaitai was still left alone to block Kerrigan one-on-one, and a missed assignment by the tackle forced Wentz to dump an incomplete pass to Smallwood.

The Green-Beckham catch-Smallwood penalty occurred on the next play and the backed-up Eagles were eventually forced to punt.

From that point onward, Pederson either left an additional blocker in to help Vaitai or had a running back and tight end chip before his route. It appeared to quell the Redskins rush for a period, and Wentz started hitting receivers down the field from the pocket.

He dropped a 54-yard dime to Matthews on a deep post, he hit Green-Beckham on a 22-yard dig, and he hooked up with tight end Zach Ertz on a 22-yard seam route. But Wentz couldn't connect with Ertz on a third-down slant at the Redskins 10-yard line with 5:29 left.

"I threw it high," Wentz said, "and made it hard on him."

On the Eagles' ensuing drive, Wentz had maybe his best toss when he side-armed a heave to Agholor for 18 yards on third and 9. But two plays later he was sacked back-to-back.

"I've got to get the ball out," Wentz said. "I can't take those sacks. That's definitely on me."

It wasn't all on Wentz, of course. His first reads failed to get separation. But he took the heat.

"That's the type of guy that Carson is," Pederson said. "He's hard on himself."

Wentz was probably more inclined to view his performance with a negative slant. But from this objective lens, while he had his first extended struggles as a pro, he was hardly at fault for the Eagles' loss.