SEATTLE - Across the upper part of his back, just below his nape, Carson Wentz has a tattoo: ISAIAH 41:10. The King James translation of that Biblical verse reads as follows: Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. It is an affirmation of Wentz's Christian faith, a permanent reminder of the spiritual reassurance that he relies on. But at the risk of being blasphemous, he and the Eagles could use a different vessel of support and assistance these days. Say, for instance, a wide receiver who knew how to line up correctly.
Sunday reaffirmed just how much Wentz needs that more tangible, practical help if he's going to fulfill the expectations that have been tethered to him since the Eagles drafted him. He was inconsistent, as he has been lately, during a 26-15 loss to the Seahawks: 23 of 45, 218 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions. Such a performance shouldn't have been surprising. The Seahawks' defense has done worse to more-accomplished, more-experienced quarterbacks, and Wentz's ups and downs since that blazing three-game beginning to his pro career should have been expected.
He's a rookie, and rookies usually struggle, and he has shown enough good things to suggest that he can be a terrific player in this league for a long time. Nevertheless, what the Eagles showed on Sunday, more than anything, is that having a potential franchise quarterback doesn't and won't mean much if they can't surround him with competent teammates - competent, in its most literal definition.
"The little mistakes that we make, whether it be mental mistakes - where we're lining up-or the physical mistakes-turnovers, dropped passes, you name it - there's a lot of things," Wentz said. "Speaking for myself, we've all got to be better. . . . Even in some of our wins, we've got so many mistakes that just keep creeping up on us that we've got to get cleaned up."
This has to be the core concern for the Eagles out of Sunday's loss: They made so many mistakes on so many fundamental aspects of football that they never gave themselves a true chance at toppling the team that might yet again prove to the best in the NFC, and no quarterback, not even one with Wentz's talent and potential, can overcome such sloppiness. Nelson Agholor's foggy-brained failure to confirm that he was aligned correctly on a second-quarter pass play-the cause of an illegal-formation penalty that wiped out a 57-yard touchdown catch-and-rumble by Zach Ertz - was only their most egregious error. All over, there were signs of an undisciplined football team.
"A hundred percent," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "Attention to detail-it's the basics of football. Get lined up, and on third and 15, don't just offside. So yeah, those things are signs of being undisciplined, and it's not just in this game. It's in other games. . . . That's been the story line: just missed opportunities where one guy, two guys didn't do their jobs."
For all of Doug Pederson and Howie Roseman's assertions that Wentz's presence and growth will give the Eagles a head start in the annual race for the Lombardi Trophy, Sunday was a reminder of just how far this franchise has to go yet. Forget a game-breaking wide receiver or shutdown cornerbacks. Those seem luxuries now. Wentz will need a defense that, over a 92-yard touchdown drive, doesn't commit three penalties and allow an opposing offense to convert first downs in second-and-20 and third-and-16 situations. The Eagles defense did that in the second quarter, on its way to surrendering an average of seven yards per play to Russell Wilson and the Seahawks offense.
Wentz will need a wide receiver who doesn't give up on a deep throw and allow an opposing cornerback to intercept the pass. Bryce Treggs did that in the third quarter. Wentz will need a head coach who can coax that intelligent, efficient play out of his team and a player-personnel chief who can find and acquire the right players to put around him. Pederson and Roseman have to show that they can do that. This season was a beta test for the core of this team, and it's becoming clear now that the franchise's player-personnel people have some hard decisions ahead of them. The Eagles may very well have their quarterback for the next decade, but they've only just begun to build around him, and make no mistake: They're still counting how many bricks they have.
"You try to get your players better, and you teach, and it's fundamental football," Pederson said. "I've talked to the players a lot about how every game has its own set of circumstances. Every game is different. No two games are alike, and as coaches and players, those are the lessons that we learn. You just can't relax. You can't rest. You have to continue to fight through it and push through it and keep teaching and keep coaching, and eventually you learn from all your mistakes."
Or, eventually you learn that you need new players, because your young franchise quarterback can't do it all by himself and shouldn't be asked to. That's the fear that should remain for the Eagles and for Carson Wentz. He will be with them, but he alone won't be enough.