There is so much new for Carson Wentz this season, and it's not just playing in the NFL or playing in Philadelphia or playing in the Eagles offense. It's also all the losing.
During Wentz's five seasons at North Dakota State, the Bison went 71-5 and won five national championships. Broadway in Fargo, N.D., doesn't experience many unhappy Sundays in the autumn. Philadelphia's Broad Street has become too used to unhappy Mondays in Wentz's first season - and it doesn't appear that season will end with another championship for Wentz.
"I'm wired to be a winner," Wentz said. "I hate losing. But at the same time, it doesn't affect us going forward. I know it doesn't affect me, and I can probably say the same thing about the guys in that locker room."
Offensive coordinator Frank Reich said Wentz "seemed totally unflappable" earlier this season, but the coach sensed that Wentz has been feeling the losses in recent weeks. The Eagles have lost three straight games and seven of their last nine. Reich said that Wentz arrived young and naive "in a good sense," and is now learning how to deal with losing - just as almost every quarterback in the NFL has needed to do. Wentz called the losing "frustrating," but he insisted that he cannot waver.
"Losing wears on you in this league," Reich said. "You have to have the tenacity to fight out of it and not get too down. He has that."
It's all part of Wentz's rookie season, which passed the quarter pole and is now entering its home stretch. Wentz begins the fourth quarter of the season on Sunday against the Washington Redskins still exhibiting so much promise but fighting the inconsistencies expected of a rookie quarterback. He has passed for 2,901 yards, 12 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, and an 80.1 quarterback rating.
But since the Eagles' loss at Washington to start the second quarter of the season, Wentz's numbers have declined - and so have the team's results. He has five touchdowns and 10 interceptions in the last eight games with a quarterback rating of 70.1. In the first four games, Wentz had seven touchdowns and one interception and a quarter rating of 103.5.
So what are the Eagles looking for from Wentz in the final quarter of the season?
"The biggest thing, probably how well he continues to lead this football team going down the stretch," coach Doug Pederson said. "There's obviously tough times right now. See how he manages that, see how he rallies from a quarterback leadership standpoint."
How Wentz handles losing will be evident. If he's pressing or becomes discouraged, then he'll fail Pederson's directive.
"If the postseason's not going to happen this year, [we] definitely want to put a good taste in his mouth going into the offseason," Pederson said.
Wide receiver Jordan Matthews said that will be an important part of the next four games. He alluded to Donovan McNabb's rookie season of 1999 - Matthews was a child in Alabama at the time - and speculated that even with a bad record, there were parts of the final month that offered optimism. These next four weeks can be the same for Wentz.
"I think we have an end goal in mind - especially when it comes to Carson," Matthews said. "The worst thing you can do is start dwelling on circumstance right now. . . . Anytime a young quarterback can go out there and does something great is a positive thing for a team."
Pederson identified areas to watch during the final four weeks. He wants to see "efficiency with the passing game," and set a personal goal of reducing the number of pass attempts and returning to the balanced offense the Eagles used earlier in the season. Wentz's 60 pass attempts last week were the by-product of a 29-0 deficit, but he's still among the top 10 in the NFL in pass attempts. Dallas' Dak Prescott, the other rookie quarterback who has started the whole season, is 24th in the league.
Wentz's mechanics will also be under scrutiny. After last week's loss, Pederson said that some of Wentz's mistakes were "strictly mechanics." Wentz said that his problems were not related to mechanics.
The Eagles have been working on Wentz's mechanics behind the scenes since the spring, and the Sam Bradford trade put that work in front of the public every week. Coaches have focused on Wentz's "target line," making sure that his feet, shoulder, and eyes are in line with his target. If he throws off his back foot, his shoulders are high and the ball tends to be released high. Reich compared it to a golfer who misses a certain way.
"Right now, if Carson's miss is a little bit of a high ball, is it dramatic? I don't think it's anything out of the acceptable range," Reich said. "The guy is still playing a lot of good football and completing a lot of passes. Do we need to work on it? Do we need to get it corrected? Yeah, and we are doing that, and he is doing that."
With a national championship season last winter, a whirlwind predraft process, the Eagles' offseason program, and the rigors of the season, Wentz has also been in overdrive. Wentz said he feels well, and that the question he asks himself is: "Do you love it enough?" If the answer is positive, then he should enjoy the daily endeavor. For the last five years, he mixed football with classes. There are no professors in the NFL.
"It's football, all day every day," Wentz said. "I love that. . . . By no means is it wearing on me in a negative way."
The end is now in sight. It might come earlier than Wentz and the Eagles hoped, but there's still enough time for Wentz to learn - and for the Eagles to learn about Wentz.