Carson Wentz and other injured Eagles use faith for perspective
The Eagles quarterback joined a group of injured Eagles, including several of his closest friends on the team, last week. But Wentz and his tight-knit crew, despite the challenges of coming back from major injury, believe that God has a plan.
The night before the Rams game, after chapel, Carson Wentz and Trey Burton were lamenting the loss of half their core group of friends on the Eagles.
Chris Maragos suffered season-ending knee injuries in October. Jordan Hicks was done for the year with an Achilles tendon rupture only a few weeks later. And Jordan Matthews, who would also eventually land on injured reserve, had been traded to the Bills in August.
"Carson and I were talking about how much we miss both Jordans — Hicks and Matthews — and the same with Maragos," Burton said Friday. "And I was like, 'Bro, I don't know if I can lose anybody else.' The next day, Carson literally gets hurt and a day later he's on IR."
In a season filled with trips to the infirmary, Wentz's has been the most devastating. The quarterback tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee last Sunday in Los Angeles, and for many the Eagles' Super Bowl chances were dashed in that instant.
The coaches and players, though, had no other choice but to place Wentz's injury their rearview mirror. The Eagles have three games remaining and the playoffs and have rallied around backup quarterback Nick Foles. But Wentz's health remains in the back of the minds of many.
How will the franchise quarterback, who inspired hope after so many years of disappointment, handle such a career setback? How will he cope with watching rather than playing? And how will he endure the grueling next nine months as he recovers?
"Obviously, it's been a rough day for me personally. I'm not going to lie," Wentz said Monday on a video he posted on social media. "I have a ton of faith in the Lord and in His plan, but at the end of day it's still been a tough one. And it will be tough on me for a little bit.
"As I just kind of reflect tonight, I just know the Lord's working through it. I know Jesus has a plan through it. I know He's trying to grow me into something, teach me something, use me somehow, someway."
For many fans, getting Wentz back by the start of next season is their ultimate concern. Football is important to the 24-year-old, as evidenced by his fearlessness on the gridiron. But Wentz's perspective on life is greater, according to Burton and may of those close to him, and he gets it from his Christian faith.
"I'm looking at him and his circumstances and the way that he's been handling all this, and I'm like learning from him. Just his positivity and the way he's viewing things," Maragos said. "After I initially got hurt, I was like really upset; you're down in the dumps.
"For him, he's like, 'Hey, man, listen, we're going to move on from this, we're going to grow from it. I know the Lord's got me.'"
Burton doesn't see the injuries to his friends as coincidence. He said that he believes they are being tested, like Jesus, Job, or the many other tortured souls in the Bible.
"The biggest thing I can do for them is pray for them, cover them immensely so that they don't start letting things creep in their mind like, 'Oh, I'm always hurt. Oh, I'm not a good player. Or, oh, the team doesn't like me,'" Burton said. "Stuff like that can easily seep into people's minds."
Burton wasn't on the field when Wentz plowed into the end zone and got sandwiched in between two Rams defenders. But he knew something was wrong. Tight end Zach Ertz, the other member of Wentz's tight-knit group, was out with a concussion and watched the play from the sideline.
After Wentz got the initial diagnosis and headed indoors, Burton suggested to Ertz that he follow him into the locker room.
"I figured I was of more use comforting him than try and comfort the guys on the field," Ertz said. "Obviously, it's an emotional time for a lot guys. You see a lot of tears. I don't want to go into the details on if he was, but I knew something wasn't right with his knee. He knew something wasn't right with his knee."
Ertz said he called their pastor from the Connect Church in Cherry Hill, Kyle Horner, and the three of them prayed together.
"We laid hands on Carson's knee," Ertz said. "It says where two or more gathered, God is there. So we were able to pray for him, put hands on his knee. It was powerful."
Burton said the laying of hands after he suffered a calf injury before last season helped him recover faster than the initial prognosis. He said that Eagles trainers told him that he would be out for over a month. He said he had Horner and his family lay hands over his calf and "like immediately I was healed."
Burton did miss the opener, but he was back for the second game.
"It's an act of faith. It's a belief that you're interceding for that person's behalf, telling God that you're praying specifically for Carson's knee to heel," Burton said. "But at the end of the day, there's no secret prayer, there's no amount of prayer. It's God's will."
Despite the initial diagnosis, the Eagles were hoping that Wentz had only suffered a severe strain. But tests the next day in Philadelphia confirmed an ACL tear. When asked why the laying of hands benefitted him and not Wentz, Burton said that the act, like one's faith, isn't some elixir.
"It's not, 'Oh, Trey magically can lay hands on you,'" Burton said. "It has nothing to do with that. Let's say Carson did heal immediately, that would have nothing to do with it, like Carson's unbreakable. At the end of the day, it's to bring God glory."
Maragos, a special teams ace, had never had to endure a major injury until he tore the anterior and posterior tendons in his right knee against the Panthers.
"You put so much work in. People just see the season," Maragos said. "You're doing stuff in February, March, April to get ready for the season, so you know how much you put into it. I think that's why it's disheartening."
The 30-year-old safety, who became an evangelical Christian in high school, said that he couldn't imagine trying to cope with his injury without his faith. He said it gives him confidence believing that God and Jesus are "there right by your side through it all." But that doesn't mean he doesn't have moments of doubt.
"You definitely ask the questions," Maragos said. "It's not like a 'Why me?' or a 'God, why would you do this to me?' It's more of like, 'All right, Lord, I don't really understand why this is happening, but I'm going to trust.' "
Ertz was playing some of the best football of his career before a hamstring injury in early November and then the concussion interrupted. The tight end was putting up receiving numbers that would have likely landed him in the Pro Bowl for the first time.
"Your earthly mind is thinking that I want to accomplish X, Y and Z, but at the end of the day it's out of your control," Ertz said. "I think you're able to prioritize things where playing every game or playing every play or getting 100 yards is not the top priority anymore."
Hicks has suffered one setback after another during his career. The linebacker suffered two year-ending injuries in college and has now had two of his first three seasons in the NFL cut short in the eighth game. Hicks said he instantly knew he injured his right Achilles because he had ruptured the left at Texas.
At halftime, Hicks said that Eagles tackle Jason Peters, who had torn his ACL the week before, tried to comfort him.
"It's funny because freaking JP walks in a quarter later and is like, 'Man, you'll be all right.' He's trying to lift my spirits," Hicks said. "The grief set in. For the first week or so, it was tough. But there's no time for that. There's no time to sit here and sulk and worry about it."
Maragos' surgery actually came after Hicks', but they spurred each other on through rehab. "Iron sharpens iron" is a phrase from a Proverbs verse they often cite. If one is having a bad day, the other is typically there to pick him up.
"And we do that with JP, too," Maragos said. "JP's bending his knee real far and we're like, 'Yeah, JP, let's go.' Everyone's giving each other high fives. It goes deeper. Yeah, we have a connection because of our faith, but it's not exclusive to just us."
Wentz, who said in his video message that he "will come back stronger than ever," had his surgery on Wednesday.
"I think Carson would probably feel really comfortable with me saying this, but I think it probably hurts him more that he can't be with his teammates than it is for anything that he would be doing personally at this point in the season," Maragos said. "People are talking about MVP and this kind of stuff. I don't think he cares much about that to be honest with you. I think he's really sad that he can't take the field with his guys."
He'll soon join his teammates in recovery.