Carson Wentz likes to play with his red hair seemingly on fire.
He likes scrambling, making off-balance throws, taking hits, and -- over the last dozen games or so, dating back to last season -- doing so from behind.
This season, the Eagles quarterback has performed better in the fourth quarter than in the first three quarters. Any viewer can discern the difference. But the numbers back it up, as well.
In seven games, Wentz has an 85.3 passer rating in the final stanza -- plus one overtime -- and a 67.8 rating in quarters 1-3. In the last two games alone the dichotomy was even greater: 118.2 to 68.6.
Wentz has never looked more like the 2017 MVP-caliber version of himself than he has in the fourth quarter of the last two games, against the Ravens and the New York Giants. The Eagles fell short against Baltimore last Sunday, but they rallied from an 11-point deficit to beat the Giants, 22-21, Thursday night.
“It’s good to see your quarterback being able to put the team on his back and lead a comeback like he did in this game,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said Friday. “... We want to try to at least minimize being down two scores late in the fourth quarter and have to come back every week. Those are hard to overcome.
“But that’s one of the things you love about Carson. He’s constantly fighting with his guys and battling with his guys out there. He wants the ball in his hands at the end of the game.”
Just a year ago, there was still a narrative that Wentz wasn’t clutch enough in late-game scenarios. In his first 52 career starts, he had led the Eagles to just five fourth-quarter comebacks. But over his last 11 regular-season starts, he has rallied his team to four come-from-behind wins and one tie.
And the four victories have come via game-winning drives.
Wentz has performed better when trailing, when in up-tempo mode, and seemingly when he has thrown caution to the wind. But he has had as many risk-reward moments earlier in games. It’s just that the results haven’t been as good.
For instance, when Wentz escaped pressure on the opening play of a second-quarter series against the Giants, he rolled to his right and threw across his body and almost the entire width of the field. Receiver Travis Fulgham nearly caught the pass, but it just as easily could have been intercepted.
But Wentz would pay the price for his carelessness later in the red zone when he lofted an off-platform second-down throw to receiver John Hightower that was intercepted in the end zone.
“I think everybody knows we can’t do that,” Pederson said. “It’s unacceptable for us. Carson feels the same way. In situations like that, you throw it away. You throw it in the first row of the stands.”
But with risk there is often the chance for reward. Several of Wentz’s best moments late in the game came when he scrambled out of a collapsing pocket and hit receivers downfield -- Hightower for 59 yards, Richard Rodgers for 30 yards, and on the game-winning touchdown, Boston Scott for 18 yards.
As difficult as those throws may have been, they weren’t reckless. But they came with a flair that has been mostly lacking from Wentz before the fourth quarter.
Pederson said Friday that he would look into any reasoning for the contrast. Wentz, when asked about the dichotomy, said that it was a good question.
“You just feel the backs-against-the-wall, time-to-make-some-plays mentality,” he said after the Ravens game. “Kind of just cut it loose and play. You’re giving guys chances down the field. You’re giving guys an opportunity to make plays.”
That Wentz has been able to mount comebacks this season with injuries across the board on offense has only added to the accomplishments. But shouldn’t he conceivably be able to perform as well in the first three-fourths of the game?
It’s obviously better to play your best with the game on the line, but the Eagles need to find some way to bottle the fourth-quarter Wentz and sprinkle it over 60 minutes. In 2017, the offense hardly ever had to come from behind because it was so proficient early.
The Eagles scored a touchdown on their opening drive Thursday night. But Wentz was mostly scattershot for the next two-plus quarters. He really didn’t get cooking until the Giants went ahead, 21-10, and Pederson had no choice but to go with his turbo, two-minute offense.
There’s a theory that Wentz is better unscripted, better when he can make checks at the line based upon his pre-snap reads, better when he’s improvising. Pederson has tried to implement more up- tempo early in games, but it hasn’t produced the desired results.
Many fans keep waiting for the 2017 Wentz to return. In some ways, he has in the last month or so. He just doesn’t have as great a supporting cast. The mistakes have been more pronounced, though.
We may be seeing a still-developing quarterback. Or maybe, now that the sample is larger, who Wentz really is: an updated version of the swashbuckling Brett Favre. Pederson, who backed up the former Packers quarterback for over a decade, may be most qualified to make that comparison.
“That was the thing with Brett -- the reward was definitely greater,” Pederson said. "But you knew there was going to be some risk involved. Carson obviously has the ability to do that. He’s got the arm strength. He’s got the mobility to extend plays with his legs.
“And I would think the one thing that we’re seeing with Carson now, and it’s the same thing I saw with Brett, is that physical toughness. Being able to stand in the pocket and take some hits and bounce up and do it again.”
But unlike Favre, Wentz hasn’t always bounced back up. The greater risk may not be turnovers but further injury. It bears watching as the Eagles make the push for the reward of a division title.