Carson Wentz stepped to the lectern to talk about quarterbacking the Eagles in a wild-card-round playoff game Sunday against the visiting Seattle Seahawks.
This was something Wentz never got to do in his first three NFL seasons. He didn’t seem to find the situation all that different Wednesday, mainly because Wentz believes the Eagles have been playing elimination games for the last month, and Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field is just the next episode in the win-or-go-home miniseries.
But if you scroll back to the preseason, Wednesday was what most of us considered the biggest key to the Eagles’ success – Wentz’s greeting January healthy and whole. Turned out there was more to it than that, such as the Eagles’ needing to play the second half of Sunday’s NFC East-clinching game against the Giants with seven of 11 Week 1 offensive starters injured. But somehow they managed it, and Wentz’s finally arriving here, in good form, is a big deal.
Doug Pederson said he wants to make sure it doesn’t become too big a deal.
“I think in Carson’s case, he doesn’t have to focus on that. He doesn’t have to focus on anything more than just continuing to lead this team, and doing the things that have made him successful down the stretch here,” said Pederson, who has coached the team to the playoffs each of the last three seasons, including that Super Bowl LII victory.
“I don’t want to add any more stress or pressure on him. Just the game itself, it’s a one-and-done mentality, and I want him to play free, and not have to worry about things in the past that are out of our control at this time. We are going to focus on Seattle and getting prepared for them.”
Wentz said that for himself and his team, which includes a number of players who haven’t been to the playoffs, “I wouldn’t say we change our mindset. I think everyone kind of feels the sense of urgency, you could say. But I don’t think anyone presses or feels [they need to] do anything different.
“The way we’ve won in some of those games – late, coming from behind in some of them … everyone just buying into believing in each other, I think that has helped the character and resiliency of this team, to kind of make this run now.”
Wentz acknowledged that even if he doesn’t feel extra pressure, he certainly understands that after knee and back injuries sidelined him in December the last two seasons, getting here means a lot. What would the Eagles’ plan for 2020 be if they were coming off a third successive early end to the season for their franchise quarterback?
“I’m excited. Kind of the same thing I’d mentioned after the [Giants] game – just how grateful I am, to be healthy, to be in this moment, with these guys. To be on the field. … I’m pretty pumped for the opportunity,” Wentz said.
Now that he’s finally here, he gets to face a Seahawks team that has consistently defended him better than anyone else in the league. In 2016, Wentz took the 5-4 Eagles to Seattle and lost, 26-15, the first of five successive defeats that ensured a losing rookie season.
Wentz completed 23 of 45 passes for 218 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. He lost a 57-yard TD pass to Zach Ertz when Nelson Agholor failed to toe the line of scrimmage.
In the 2017 Super Bowl season, Wentz lost the ball stretching out for the goal line and the Eagles again fell at Seattle, 24-10. And this past Nov. 24, Seattle traveled East and won, 17-9, with Wentz figuring in four of the Eagles’ five turnovers, in the worst offensive performance of the season, and one of the worst of Wentz’s career.
So in three meetings, Wentz has completed 85 of 135 passes (63 percent, with exactly 45 attempts each time, how weird is that?) for 822 yards, four touchdowns, five interceptions, and three lost fumbles.
Asked about that history, Wentz said the most relevant game was the one this season.
“We’re obviously focused on the here and now. This year, we just didn’t score many points because we turned the ball over,” he said.
The Eagles managed 23 first downs in the November game, to Seattle’s 14. “It’s going to be the echo of the week, really, is just, take care of the football. But hats off to them. They’ve always had a really good defense. They’re coached extremely well, they play fast.”
And they have a relentless pass rush that focuses on ripping the ball out.
“Those things are still lingering here and there in some of these games. Taking care of the football has just been a point of emphasis for me, and really, the entire offense,” Wentz said. “I think we’ve obviously done a much better job since that game.”
“We know we have to do a lot better than that. We have to protect the quarterback. We have to be able to run the football better. We have to take care of the ball,” offensive coordinator Mike Groh said this week. “I think we've been doing those things [lately]. We are confident in who we are and our preparation, and really looking forward to the challenge.”
The Eagles started moving Wentz out of the pocket more following that Seattle loss. It’s been one of the keys to the four-game win streak that took them to the playoffs.
Wentz credited the coaches and his teammates, including the practice squad call-up skill position guys, with “executing and calling it really well so I can just play fast. … Guys have been making plays. It’s someone different every week.”
Wentz and the offense have had some slow starts this season, some games when first-quarter emotion has wiped away focus and poise. Obviously, the Linc will be rocking. Pederson wants a clear-eyed start.
“I think the biggest thing, and this is something that I'll keep addressing the team [on] this week, is we have so many young guys that haven't been in these games, and the emotions run high,” Pederson said. “The atmosphere is different, right? You have preseason, regular season, postseason, and everything gets sort of magnified now.”
Pederson said running tempo early instead of huddling has helped settle down the offense.