CARSON WENTZ did not drive the Eagles down the field in the closing moments of the fourth quarter for a game-winning score.

He did not have to.

After the Atlanta Falcons had turned the ball over on downs on their own 39-yard line with a little more than two minutes remaining, Wentz handed the ball off three straight times to running back Wendell Smallwood.

The rookie from the University of West Virginia gained eight yards and just as importantly, forced the Falcons to burn their three timeouts.

Eagles kicker Caleb Sturgis then booted a 48-yard field goal as the clock reached the two-minute warning.

The Birds had extended their lead with 1:57 left and went on to a huge, 24-15 victory over the Falcons on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.

A week after a troublesome loss at the New York Giants, the Birds (5-4) bounced back into the thick of the race for a playoff spot in the NFC.

The Falcons (6-4) joined the Pittsburgh Steelers and Minnesota Vikings in coming to South Philadelphia as division leaders and leaving defeated. Overall, the Eagles improved to 4-0 at the Linc.

"It's a big game for us to pull off a tight win like this," Wentz said. "Obviously, we're half way through the season and to get this win to go back in the plus category is huge.

"But I think the biggest thing is just we pulled one out in the end and we hadn't done that yet."

If you activated Wentz as your starting quarterback in Fantasy Football this week, you likely weren't overwhelmed by his performance. He completed 25 of 36 passes for 231 yards with no touchdowns.

If, however, you are looking beyond the raw statistics, it was evident that Wentz played one of the more cerebral games at the biggest moment of his young career.

Against the high-scoring Falcons, the Eagles didn't need the rookie from North Dakota State to be a gunslinger and outduel Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan, who came into the game leading the NFL in passing yards and touchdown passes.

The odds of the Eagles winning a shootout with Atlanta, which led the league in points scored, were not high.

This was a game where the Eagles needed Wentz to be the ultimate game manager, maximizing possession of the ball, thus limiting Atlanta.

With the Eagles' defense doing its part by pushing around the Falcons and limiting them to fewer than 24 points for the first time this season, Wentz's job was to be smart, take what the defense gave him and not make any big mistakes.

Against the Giants, Wentz threw interceptions on the first two possessions and the Eagles fell behind 14-0.

Against the Falcons, Wentz set a positive tone by driving the Birds 81 yards on 12 plays while using up 7:14 to stake the Eagles to a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.

Wentz was 4-of-4 for 47 yards but showed the Falcons he was also content to put the ball in the gut of running back Ryan Mathews, who gained 34 yards on seven carries, including a four-yard scoring run, and the quarterback had the blueprint to follow.

Utilizing a nearly perfectly balanced attack of 38 rushes and 36 passes, the Eagles ran 76 plays (including two sacks) to just 48 for the Falcons.

The Birds won the time-of-possession battle, 38:10 to 21:50.

"I don't know if it was so much to keep their offense off the field as just we knew we could take advantage of some things on their defense," Wentz said. "There were some things we wanted to establish early with the run game and we did a great job of that."

Having lost four of five games after a 3-0 start, it would have been easy for Wentz to try to shoulder more responsibility and force the issue more. He remained disciplined, especially in the fourth quarter after Atlanta took a 15-13 lead. There was no attempt at a quick counter attack, just more of what the Eagles had been doing successfully.

Wentz moved the Eagles 76 yards in eight plays and used up 3 1/2 minutes. Mathews, who finished with 108 yards on 18 carries, scored his second touchdown, and his two-point conversion put the Eagles up 21-15.

It may not have looked like the prototypical game-winning, fourth-quarter drive but it was Wentz's first nevertheless.

Wentz threw an 18-yard completion to tight end Zach Ertz and then completed short passes to Darren Sproles and Ertz. Sproles ran for 8 yards and then caught passes for 4 and 7 yards.

A pass interference on a 21-yard throw to Jordan Matthews moved the ball to the 5, and then Mathews finished it off.

"I thought he managed it extremely well down the stretch," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said of Wentz. " . . . The thing is he's understanding the personnel. He's understanding the guys around him, situational ball.

"Those are the things I've talked about all season, and it began to show up today. He did an outstanding job that way and led this football team to obviously a team win."

Columns: ph.ly/Smallwood

Blog: ph.ly/DNL