ANAHEIM, Calif. – If Carson Wentz seemed a little shaky out of the gate last Sunday night in Seattle, he more or less steadied himself during the second half of the Eagles' 24-10 loss. And this week in California, no one seems concerned that another huge moment in the national spotlight will prove too big for the second-year quarterback from North Dakota State, when he takes the field for Sunday's showdown with his draft day nemesis, Rams quarterback Jared Goff. Goff was the first overall pick in 2016, one selection before Wentz.
Linebacker Nigel Bradham seemed amused that anyone would think that last week's first half, in which Wentz passed for 45 yards, and his subsequent two costly turnovers, would be cause for concern as Wentz faces a defense that ranks fifth in the league in quarterback rating – allowing a 77.3 average, negligibly higher than the Eagles defense's fourth-ranked 77.0.
"It's Carson Wentz!" Bradham said. "He made tremendous plays in that game, to definitely give us chances to win that game. We got a great quarterback."
On Monday, Eagles coach Doug Pederson seemed to feed the narrative of Wentz coming out a bit tentatively in Seattle. Pederson was asked about the vivid difference in offensive approach between the first half of that game and the second half, in which Wentz threw for 303 yards – as far as Eagles public relations can tell, the highest total in franchise history for a single half.
Pederson mentioned the overthrow on what should have been an early touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor, which Wentz has agreed was entirely his fault. Then Pederson said: "We had other opportunities down the field, and elected to go other places."
Pederson said that in second-guessing his own first-half strategy, he saw "maybe a play or two here or there" where he could have made a more aggressive call. "But they were also getting off on the snap count relatively well. They were hitting our quarterback. The noise was a little bit of a factor early on."
Indeed, some Eagles said not only did they have to use the silent count in Seattle, which they had prepared for, they also had trouble even hearing Wentz in the huddle.
"I think the biggest thing is, we just missed some opportunities. … I missed some throws, obviously, the fumble down there [just short of the goal line, that bounced through the end zone for a touchback]," Wentz said. "We just have to clean some of those things up. We were right there.
"Did we have our best performance? No. Not at all, but I thought we were right there. It wasn't a game-plan thing, it wasn't a play-calling thing at all. We just got to execute better."
The shift to Southern California forced Wentz to do his weekly Wednesday news conference from the postgame podium generally used by Angels manager Mike Scioscia, an Upper Darby native. Wentz seemed relaxed and matter-of-fact, as he always is back at NovaCare.
"It hasn't really affected me too much. I've been pretty much consistent with the same approach as far as getting extra studying in and everything. … I haven't really let any of this distract me at all," he said.
Right tackle Lane Johnson said he didn't think the offense, which slipped into a tie for the NFL scoring lead with the Rams, after generating a season-low 10 points against the Seahawks, got that far off track. The Eagles outgained their Seattle hosts, 425 total yards to 310.
"You saw the yards. I don't think they stopped us. We stopped us," Johnson said. "Doug kind of reiterated that early in the week – against good teams, you can't turn the ball over, you got to win the turnover battle. So really, man, it's just us shooting ourselves in the foot.That's really it."
The turnovers both belonged to Wentz, but Johnson didn't seem to find that troubling.
"Some of those throws he made just made you say 'wow.' Obviously, he'd like to have the [fumble] back, but the guy's been battling his ass off; he has been all year. I've got the utmost confidence in what he's going to be able to do," Johnson said.
Teammates are aware that this is a week of Wentz-Goff comparisons; the two quarterbacks are represented by the same agent group and trained together before the draft. They text each other here and there, and seem aware that their fates will always be linked.
"I don't think he gets too caught up in it; he has so much other stuff to worry about," Johnson said. "It's still fun to talk about. Other than that, though, I don't pay too much attention to it."
Johnson said he doesn't second-guess Wentz.
"He's the first one in and the last one to leave. I'm not just saying that. The guy puts in a lot of time and effort."
Wentz referred to a play late in the Seattle game in which he "just didn't make the throw" to an open Torrey Smith. Smith, whose five catches at Seattle netted just 29 yards, wasn't blaming Wentz for the offense's lack of production.
"I think we all played a part in that," he said. "You're going to have some good games and you're going to have some bad games. Superman takes his cape off sometimes. That's kind of how he's been playing for us and that's how we expect him to play and how he will play.
"As far as the [Goff] comparison and stuff, I've never heard him talk about it, but I know obviously they're going to be compared, and he's going to be compared to Dak [Prescott, in Dallas]. I can't speak for him, but I'm pretty sure he doesn't care about that too much. It's about what we're doing on our end."
When it comes to Wentz, Smith said, "I always expect him to play well and make all kinds of crazy plays that you wouldn't imagine a quarterback would be able to make, to make us win. That's what he does, that's what he's going to continue to do for a long time here."
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