LOS ANGELES – This was one scramble Carson Wentz could not make on his own. Wentz was seated backward on a green motorized cart Sunday evening, head down, texting intently. A towel partially covered his left leg, the lower portion of which was encased in a black padded brace.
As the cart roared up the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum tunnel from the visiting locker room, reporters jogged in its wake. At the top of the tunnel, screened by guards, Wentz hopped off the cart and made his way to the Eagles' red-and-yellow, Gold Coast Tours chartered bus. A pair of unidentified hands reached out to embrace him in a hug as he moved into the doorway, on the opposite side of the bus from where reporters watched from behind a fence.
Wentz wore a black 2017 NFC East Champions cap, the one handed to each player in the victorious locker room after the Eagles' 43-35 victory over the host Los Angeles Rams. It might be destined to become an ironic souvenir, like tickets to the maiden voyage of the Titanic.
Wentz is thought to have torn his left anterior cruciate ligament with 3 minutes, 53 seconds remaining in the third quarter, on a scramble on which he ended up diving into the end zone for a touchdown that didn't count, Wentz's legs sandwiched between Rams defensive lineman Morgan Fox and linebacker Mark Barron. Right tackle Lane Johnson was called for holding on the play — replays showed nothing egregious, but that was the call — and Wentz played four more snaps, breaking Sonny Jurgensen's franchise single-season record for touchdown passes with his 33rd of the season, his fourth of the afternoon, on a ball he might have been throwing to Nelson Agholor that went past Agholor in the end zone and was plucked adroitly by Alshon Jeffery.
More than likely, that was Wentz's last touchdown pass of the season, on a day when the Eagles redefined winning the battle and losing the war.
A source close to the situation said it's possible that imaging Monday will show something less than a season-ending injury, but the source acknowledged that hope is a "low probability."
"He didn't say anything," wide receiver Torrey Smith said, when asked about those four plays. Smith, like everyone else, assumed the injury occurred on the called-back touchdown, something a source close to the situation later confirmed. "That shows you how tough he is. I'm praying for the best for him," Smith said.
Smith said after the game that Wentz was "a little bit down, but excited nonetheless" about the team's clinching a playoff berth.
On any other afternoon, the receivers would have been a major story unto themselves, the Eagles netting 333 passing yards on 29 catches against what had been the NFL's seventh-ranked pass defense. Agholor redeemed himself for a first-possession interception he caused by coming back to catch eight passes for 64 yards, including a clutch grab on third down from backup Nick Foles to allow the Eagles to virtually run out the clock.
"Nick gave me a shot, and I had to make a play on the ball," Agholor said. "Extremely proud of my teammates, and the fact that we left this stadium victorious."
Smith's six catches netted 100 yards. With tight end Zach Ertz sidelined by a concussion, Trey Burton caught five passes for 71 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and Brent Celek's lone catch became his first touchdown since 2015. Jeffery's TD catch was tremendous, one of his five grabs for 52 yards.
"I haven't seen any replay," Jeffery said. "I thought the ball was actually going to 'Nelly.' But it was in my catch radius. I just made a hell of a catch."
Jeffery eventually trapped the ball against his thigh, something he said he couldn't really remember doing.
But there was only one Eagles story Sunday. Smith noted that Wentz is "probably the MVP of the league."
"He's the leader of our team, playing out of his mind," said right guard Brandon Brooks, who said he had no idea anything was wrong until after the touchdown was scored and they went to the sideline. "He was the same guy" after the play on which Wentz was injured.
"That's why he is who he is," Agholor said.
"He's our MVP," Jeffery said.
"Hopefully he's OK. If not, it's devastating," Celek said. "We've just got to go out there and play for him. I talked to him, told him I love him. We'll see what happens."
"I saw the hit; he got up limping, but he got back in the huddle. He didn't say another word, just rolled with it," Jeffery said.
After the Johnson penalty moved the Eagles back to the Rams' 12, Wentz handed off to Corey Clement, who got back 9 yards. Clement carried again for a yard, then Wentz couldn't connect with Jeffery. A field goal would have brought the Eagles within 28-27 with more than a quarter remaining, but Eagles coach Doug Pederson elected to go for it, and Wentz and Jeffery got back the Eagles' lead, which once was 21-7.
Foles did a nice job of coaxing the Birds over the finish line Sunday, and he certainly is better than many other backup quarterbacks, but Carson Wentz is what makes the Eagles special. As they took those division-champion caps off for a nap on the charter home early this morning, his teammates surely came to grips with that.
In the coming days, we will no doubt hear a lot of "next man up" chatter; no one is going to give up on the season, after working so hard to get to 11-2. But if Doug Pederson wins the Super Bowl with Foles, he is the greatest coach in history.