Carson Wentz and clutch: Words that go together well in Eagles victory over Giants | Jeff McLane
Carson Wentz and the Eagles had failed in late-game situations this season, but they finally delivered on Sunday.
When Carson Wentz walked out of the interview room, his wife, Maddie, was waiting. She stood in the same spot just two weeks ago after her husband and the Eagles came up short of staging a late comeback against the Cowboys.
But something was different, whether the newlyweds' outward emotions didn't reveal as much, and whether Wentz downplayed the significance of the Eagles' 25-22 win over the New York Giants.
The Eagles are far from finished this season and are now 5-6 – one game behind the NFC East-leading Redskins and Cowboys – with games against each divisional rival the next two weeks. That is the most important takeaway from Sunday.
But the way the Eagles beat the Giants – coming back from a 16-point first-half deficit, and taking two fourth-quarter leads, the second on a game-winning score with less than a minute remaining – took a monkey of sorts off the quarterback's back.
"Anytime we can get a victory in come-from-behind fashion it speaks volumes about the team and the resiliency of the guys on both sides of the ball," Wentz said. "Personally, it was big to get it done today for me, and I know that everyone feels the same."
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In three previous games this season, Wentz had the ball in his hands with less than two minutes left and a chance to deliver the game-winning score.
Against the Vikings, he had the offense deep in Minnesota territory with the opportunity to take a fourth-quarter lead. But in each scenario, the Eagles came up short.
Wentz and his "failure" to drive the Eagles to at least a tie with under four minutes left has been a running theme early in his NFL career. He was 1-9 in such scenarios.
He did lead the Eagles to a touchdown late against the Ravens two seasons ago only to come an unsuccessful two-point conversion shy of victory. And he did engineer a 17-play drive that drained 11 minutes in the fourth quarter in the comeback win over the Colts earlier this season. But Wentz and clutch weren't words that often went together.
"Obviously, there's been noise about whether he could quote-unquote lead us in the fourth quarter," Eagles tight end Zach Ertz said. "He's a guy that I want with the ball each and every time I play."
On Sunday, Wentz didn't have to perform any superhuman feats, but he was economical in ways that maybe he wasn't before in similar situations. He certainly benefited from a rejuvenated run game, particularly early in the fourth quarter.
Aside from a 23-yard screen pass to running back Corey Clement, Wentz didn't drop to throw on the Eagles' seven-play, 61-yard drive that ended with Josh Adams' 1-yard plunge into the end zone.
But on the final drive, after the Giants knotted the score at 22, the Eagles needed Wentz's arm. With just over five minutes to go, he connected with Alshon Jeffery on second- and-7. The receiver caught the ball a yard beyond the marker, and jetted upfield for an additional 13 yards.
After Adams was dropped for a loss, Wentz hit Ertz for 10 yards. Adams was stopped at the line on his next carry and the Eagles faced fourth-and-1 at the Giants 42 with 2 minutes, 39 seconds left. Doug Pederson called a staple mesh concept play that had Ertz and receiver Golden Tate running rub routes underneath designed to beat man coverage.
But the Giants were in zone, and when the middle parted, receiver Nelson Agholor was open and Wentz hit him with a 12-yard strike.
"We call it an 'all-coverage beater,'" Wentz said. "[It's] a pure-progression play and it's also one we've got a lot of reps at. … You just kind of keep it simple in those situations."
The Eagles milked the clock with three Adams rushes, and with 22 seconds remaining, kicker Jake Elliott split the uprights from 43 yards out.
The only other time Wentz had been credited with a comeback was last season when his one pass — a 19-yarder to Jeffery — set up Elliott's 61-yard memory maker.
Wentz hasn't exactly carried his team on some long, game-winning surge, a la elite quarterbacks. But reminders that he's young, and less than a year from suffering ACL and LCL tears in his left knee are still needed. The fourth-quarter shot to his knee – "Kind of spooked me a little bit," Wentz said. – was one. Last week's loss to the Saints in which he tossed three interceptions was another.
Pederson stayed balanced with his play-calling – a 29-31 run-pass ratio — even though the Eagles trailed throughout most of the game.
"They always say that the running game is the best friend of the quarterback," Wentz said, "and that was 100 percent true today."
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Wentz has a lot of responsibility at the line and gets credit for gains on the ground, as well. Adams said that the quarterback checked to his 52-yard touchdown burst that was brought back by a holding penalty. But Pederson's message to his offense was to get back to basics and do the simple things right.
"Sometimes when you're in a slump – especially offensively – you want to try and scheme up things too much and try to be too perfect," Wentz said.
The Eagles' problems haven't all gone away. They failed to score in the first quarter for the ninth time this season. They had ill-timed penalties and dropped passes and are still trying to find a formula that integrates Tate into the offense.
Sunday was a step forward, however, after getting pummeled in New Orleans. Wentz didn't have a turnover for the first time this season and was as accurate (71.4 percent) as he'd been previously.
But the comeback and the game-winning drive will be remembered most — especially if the Eagles go on to save the season.
"For him to now have been through this, to be down I think 19-3, and to come back the entire game and just stay patient and really allow things to unfold for him," Pederson said, "I think was a tremendous step forward."
Wentz said last week that he regretted tossing his helmet in a moment of frustration. But nothing about his demeanor changed this week despite the career moment. He walked up to Maddie outside the locker room and kissed her, just as he did two weeks ago.