After five Eagles losses this season, much of the dialogue in Philadelphia has been about the mistakes of a wide receiver, the head coach's fourth-down play calls, a running back's fumble, or the blocking problems of a right tackle.
The public scorn has not fallen on rookie quarterback Carson Wentz, who, with all his precociousness and poise, remains in a honeymoon period. But with a 5-5 record and little margin for error remaining in the playoff race, Wentz must show he can carry a team in the final six weeks.
"I think he is [ready]," coach Doug Pederson said. "We've had to do it already this year. He's been able to [throw] 40-plus pass attempts and carry us a little bit down the stretch. So, he's used to that. He's accustomed to it."
Monday's game against the Green Bay Packers is an opportunity to generate momentum for December. The Eagles face a defense that has allowed opposing passers to compile a 105.5 quarterback rating - the second worst mark in the league - and has one of the NFL's best rushing defenses. In the last two weeks, opposing quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Kirk Cousins combined to go 40 of 56 for 670 yards and seven touchdowns with no interceptions against Green Bay's secondary. The Eagles will play without running back Ryan Mathews and with uncertainty at wide receiver because of starter Nelson Agholor's crisis of confidence.
With a prime-time audience watching Wentz, he has a pristine opportunity to display his development as a rookie.
"For me, the experience has been huge," Wentz said. "Every week, there's something new that happens. There's new 'outside things' that happens. Every week is something new to learn. Hard to say if I'm better or worse [since the beginning of the season], but I'm learning a lot. I'm getting valuable experience and I'm playing confident. Mistakes are going to happen. That's football. But I'm playing faster and faster."
Wentz's statistics have waned since his scorching start to the season. He had a 103.5 passer rating in his first four games, but he has a league-worst 72.4 rating in his last six games. In those first four games, he threw seven touchdown passes and one interception. Since then? Four touchdowns and six interceptions.
It's not all on Wentz. As has been well-documented this season, the rookie could use more help from his wide receivers. But Wentz is the one with the ball in his hands on every play, and the results have not been good enough in recent weeks.
"I think we're close," Wentz said. "We have a lot of young guys, myself included, that's getting all this experience, all these learning opportunities, and we see them all. . . . We just need to fine-tune our details and we'll be all right."
Last week, Pederson noticed instances when Wentz "was a little bit late," "kept his eyes in a spot too long," or "could have gone other places with the ball." Part of that had to do with playing Seattle's defense and playing in a difficult environment, but Pederson said the lesson for Wentz is to understand game situations. Wentz must consider the down and distance, play call, play design, and what the defense presents. This awareness was atop the list when Pederson explained what he wants to see from his quarterback in the final six weeks.
"The biggest thing I think is just efficiency, being smart as a quarterback and understanding what we're trying to get done from a game plan standpoint," Pederson said. "How well he moves the team, first down, staying on the field, good decisions on third down, protecting the football. Those are the things now down the stretch that you want to see from your quarterback and the leader of the team."
Offensive coordinator Frank Reich said he sees "all the right signs" from Wentz, but what is not yet known is how Wentz moves past a "rough spell." After 100 games, Reich said a top quarterback might have two of those spells. Wentz is only 10 games into his NFL career, and he cannot afford many of these skids.
"He's really smart, but there's still something about doing it, and the more you do it, he's just going to get better," Reich said. "But probably what I love most about it is his mind-set. He has not wavered. . . . He brings the same energy, the same juice."
Wentz emphasized this personality trait when explaining how he deals with late-season football, when games become more significant. He wants an even temperament because "the guys want to see that out of one their leaders, this position especially." He knows all eyes are on him - whether it's his teammates in the huddle or the fans in the stands. So Wentz makes sure that his personality is "consistent."
As much as the Eagles like his consistent personality, they also need consistent production from the franchise quarterback. Wentz doesn't see any major strides that must be taken in the final month, but rather little details he must refine.
"We're so close," Wentz said. "I keep saying that. And it probably sounds like a broken record. But we all know. We all see it. We all put on the game tape. So for me, it's just executing, being smart with the football, knowing when to take my chances. It's something I'm trying to learn and trying to walk that fine line every week."
In the Eagles' headquarters, the coaches remain enthused about Wentz. He also has the beliefs of his teammates. Wentz has a chance to validate the enthusiasm on Monday and stretching through the next six weeks, because the Eagles still have a chance to ride the "Wentz Wagon" into the postseason.
"I'm playing confident," Wentz said, "and I think we'll be all right."