SEATTLE — The Eagles' nine-game winning streak came to a bitter end for a lot of reasons Sunday night, but right up there among them was the fact that Carson Wentz was finally the second-best quarterback on the field.
Seattle's Russell Wilson was as dominant as he has ever been in an illustrious six-year career, against a defense that relentlessly chased and hectored him, to little avail. Wilson's 20-for-31 night — for 227 yards, three touchdowns, no turnovers and a 118.6 passer rating — was the stat line of the game on a night when the Eagles surrendered the NFC's top seed to Minnesota, on tiebreakers.
Wentz never quite overcame a subdued, shaky start, and a game plan that seemed designed to try to tiptoe to victory, as if the Eagles employed a rookie QB, not the guy leading the Pro Bowl balloting. Wentz's 29 for 45 for 348 line, with one touchdown, a meaningless late interception and an 86.2 passer rating, looks better than it felt, almost all of the yardage coming with the Eagles down double digits.
The game turned on a Wentz fumble. Often quarterback fumbles are not the QB's fault, he gets hit from the blindside trying to pass, but this was not that at all.
A week earlier, a fumble just outside the end zone ended up in the hands of Nelson Agholor for an Eagles touchdown. But this was a different night, a different stadium, a different foe.
When Seattle defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson punched the ball out of Wentz's grasp as the Eagles' quarterback fell forward, maybe an inch or two short of the goal line, again the ball bounced into the end zone. This time, it eluded everyone's grasp and rolled out the back. Touchback, Seattle ball.
Wentz argued in vain that he was down before he lost the ball. Replays showed this was not the case.
"I saw the line thought it was going to be close. I made that extra lunge and it cost us," Wentz said. "That's the story of the game, really — we turned the ball over and they didn't."
So much had gone right for Wentz and the Eagles in building that best-in-the-league 10-1 record, but this was the night when almost nothing went right. In just a few minutes, they went from being on the verge of tying the game to trailing 17-3, after the Seahawks took the gift touchback and drove 80 yards, with the help of two defensive holding penalties and a fling to nowhere from Wilson that was not ruled intentional grounding because Wilson supposedly was outside the pocket.
That was the fatal sequence, to be sure, but Wentz and the Eagles were showing plenty of bad signs before the 14-point turnaround that made their task nearly impossible.
Early on, the offensive game plan seemed tentative for a 10-1 team facing a 7-4 team that had lost two in a row at home, and was missing star corner Richard Sherman and star safety Kam Chancellor.
"We were just trying to find out what was working for us, through the ground and through the air. We were obviously a little stagnant there early on," Wentz said. "We struggled to get into a rhythm, running the ball and throwing the ball."
The intent was to run the ball, and the Eagles found some success there, but it wasn't the kind of success that easily produces points, and for some reason, on passing downs the visitors behaved as if Seattle's depleted secondary was kryptonite. Wentz overthrew Agholor downfield early — "I gotta make that throw," he said —- and never went deep again until the third quarter drive on which he fumbled the ball away. Passes were absurdly short, a couple yards here, 5 yards there.
At the end of the first quarter, which saw the Eagles trailing 10-0, their largest deficit since their week 2 loss to Kansas City, Wentz had completed just two of four passes for 10 yards.
At the end of the first half, which saw Eagles coach Doug Pederson opt to punt on fourth and 2 from the Seattle 46 with just 18 seconds remaining, Wentz was nine for 13 for just 45 yards, and the Birds trailed 10-3. They blew a setup for a touchdown when Alshon Jeffery, who was not targeted in the first half, held a defender on a LeGarrette Blount run for a first down inside the Seattle 5.
The Eagles got the ball to start the second half and came out much more aggressively, driving from their 25 to the Seahawks' 6, where Wentz tucked the ball and went up the middle almost to the goalline, and Richardson ripped it out.
Nobody is coming back from 17-3 in the second half at CenturyLink Field, but Wentz gave it his best. After taking a sack because he held the ball too long on the final play of the third quarter – a series after missing on fourth-and-3 screen to Kenjon Barner at Seattle's 25 – Wentz scrambled and hit Agholor for 51 yards, as Wentz was being wrapped up by Quinton Jefferson. Four plays later, Wentz scrambled and made his best throw of the evening, 27 yards to Agholor for a touchdown that made it 17-10 with the extra point.
That was Agholor's sixth catch for a career-high 131 yards, almost all of it against former Eagle Byron Maxwell. But Wilson and the Seahawks were comfortable and rolling. They casually strolled downfield, 73 yards in 10 plays, and made it 24-10, Wilson throwing his third touchdown pass of the night, this to running back J.D. McKissic, uncovered from 15 yards out.
The Eagles' record is much different – 10-2 instead of 5-5 – but it is hard to argue they came any closer to beating the Seahawks than they did a year ago, when they lost 26-15, with rookie Wentz completing 23 of 45 for 218 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
"I thought he did OK," Pederson said when asked how Wentz played. "Made some great plays in the second half that kept us in the football game. I think if you asked him, there might be a couple plays still left out there. Under duress a little bit."
Pederson was asked if he thought his team came any closer to beating the Seahawks than it had in 2016.