Nobody understands the value of having a great starting quarterback — and the catastrophic impact of losing one — better than Oakland Raiders coach Jack Del Rio.
A year ago, his team was on top of the world heading into its final two regular-season games. It had an 11-3 record and needed only to win its final two games to wrap up the AFC West, clinch a first-round playoff bye and possibly corral home-field advantage in the playoffs.
Derek Carr, much like the Eagles' Carson Wentz, was a legitimate MVP candidate. He had thrown 25 touchdown passes, and would throw three more in Week 16 before disaster struck. His plus-22 touchdowns-to-interceptions differential would rank fourth in the league, behind only those of Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, and Tom Brady.
Then, on Christmas Eve, all the RaiderNation laughter turned to sorrow. Early in the fourth quarter of a 33-25 win over the Indianapolis Colts, Carr, who hadn't been touched by a Colts pass rusher the entire game, was sacked by ex-Eagle Trent Cole, and suffered a broken fibula.
QB injury crushed playoff hopes
Carr's injury ended his season and, for all intents and purposes, killed the Raiders' hopes of making a deep playoff run.
Carr was replaced by former Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin, who had just six NFL starts.
McGloin made start No. 7 the next week against the Denver Broncos with the AFC West and a playoff bye on the line. But is left (non-throwing) shoulder was injured in the second quarter. That left rookie fourth-round pick Connor Cook.
Cook completed 14 of 21 passes for 150 yards against the Broncos, but the Raiders still lost the game, 24-6, which cost them the division title (the Chiefs won it on head-to-head tiebreaker) and a first-round bye.
They slipped to the fifth seed, had to go on the road with the green Cook as their starting quarterback, and lost to the Houston Texans in the wild-card round, 27-14. Cook was 18 of 45 with three interceptions.
So Del Rio, whose 6-8 team will visit the Linc on Christmas night, feels Doug Pederson's pain. He sympathizes with the Eagles' coach over the loss of Wentz to a torn ACL two weeks ago. But hey, those are the breaks.
Thanks to the foresight of their personnel department, the 12-2 Eagles — who can clinch a first-round bye with a win over the Raiders or a Saturday loss by the Minnesota Vikings — are better equipped to deal with the loss of Wentz than the Raiders were the loss of Carr last year. Enough to still make a deep playoff run? We'll see.
Foles give Eagles a chance
Wentz's replacement, Nick Foles, has 37 career starts, including 25 with the Eagles. He led the league in passing in 2013 with the third-highest passer rating in history (119.2). Threw 27 touchdown passes and just two interceptions that year. Seven of those TD passes came in a 49-20 win over the Raiders.
"Carson is a tremendous player and it's really a shame that he got hurt,'' Del Rio said. "I hate to see that. He's a fine young football player who was having a tremendous year.
"But Nick is very capable. He's got plenty of experience. He's a guy who's had many good starts in the league and has proved he can play at a high level. He's very capable of running that offense. He played very well in his first game leading the team last week.''
Yes, he did. Foles completed 24 of 38 passes for 237 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions in Sunday's 34-29 win over the Giants.
He should do pretty well Monday as well against a Raiders defense that is 31st in opponent passer rating (102.), 27th in yards allowed per attempt (7.7), tied for 22nd in sacks (28) and tied for last in interceptions (four).
The challenge will come in the playoffs in a few weeks when he goes against more capable defenses.
The difference between Wentz and Foles is that Wentz is capable of lifting a team on his shoulders and carrying it across the finish line. Foles' success is more dependent on the cast around him.
"Nick is more than capable of being a really good quarterback in this league,'' center Jason Kelce said. "As long as the rest of the offense continues to do their job and guys continue to do what's being asked of them, and we rally around him and give him an opportunity to succeed, I have confidence in Nick. I've seen him do it before.
"Nick's proved he can play if the pieces are around him, if everything's set up to put him in a successful situation. I think we have some good pieces on the offense. I think we have some really good players.''
Time to get ready
The fact that Wentz's injury happened in Week 14 as opposed to Carr's, which happened in Week 16, has given Foles a little more time to get his legs under him and establish a rapport with his receivers and his linemen before the playoffs.
"That definitely helps,'' Del Rio said. "And the fact that they have a proven guy who has won — what — 21-22 games in this league already [Foles has a 22-16 regular-season career record], that's important.
"You're looking at a guy who has experience, good experience, and is off to a great start in his first opportunity last week.''
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