Carson Wentz’s cheeks were red when he stepped to the lectern at Lambeau Field on Sunday evening.
Granted, Wentz had just spent several hours outdoors in Green Bay in December, but then there was the fact that he’d just been benched for the first time in his five-year, 68-game NFL career, midway through the third quarter of what became a 30-16 Eagles loss to Aaron Rodgers and the host Packers.
And the fact that as he approaches his 28th birthday on Dec. 30, a little over a year after signing a four-year, $128 million contract, Wentz does not know whether he will start at home next week against the New Orleans Saints, or again this season.
After missing Zach Ertz and John Hightower to kill a series that began with a 41-yard completion to Dallas Goedert, the Eagles down, 20-3, Wentz found himself listening to Eagles coach Doug Pederson telling him that rookie Jalen Hurts would quarterback the upcoming set of downs.
That set of downs turned into the rest of the game, with Hurts authoring the Eagles’ only touchdown drive of the day, throwing an amazing 32-yard fourth-down scoring pass. A quarterback controversy that had been simmering for several weeks boiled over.
“A the time, just where we were as an offense, I felt we needed a spark,” Pederson said. “We needed something to kind of go our way, and so I decided to put Jalen in the game. ”
Asked who will start against the Saints, Pederson said he has not decided.
“You know, you guys, listen, you got to let me get me get through this game. You just heard me say we needed a spark in this game, to try to get some things going. I’ve got to get through injuries, I’ve got to get through tape. There’s a lot of things I’m going to consider and evaluate before anything’s decided,” Pederson said.
Wentz and Hurts were careful not to say anything that would fuel the controversy, but obviously, Wentz did not appreciate this development. Asked if he thought getting a break to reassess would help him, he said it would not.
The 3-8-1 Eagles made it obvious that they didn’t match up with 9-3 Green Bay in almost any area, but Wentz was an anemic 6-for-15 for 79 yards when he sat down, having generated three points, on the opening drive of the day.
“I didn’t know what the plan was, fully, I was just told that he was going in for the next play and the next series, so I didn’t really know what was going on there. But obviously, that’s frustrating, as a competitor, and just the personality that I have. I want to be the guy out there,” Wentz said. “But it is what it is. They made the call today.
“At the end of the day, we lost. ... I think, for me, that’s what I’m most frustrated about.”
The team’s brutally inefficient offense before that wasn’t all Wentz’s fault, but Hurts definitely changed the tone, before his first interception, in desperation time, with 1 minute, 47 seconds remaining, sealed the loss. It was the fourth loss in a row for a team that has found itself down by double digits in nine of 12 games.
Hurts gained 29 yards on five runs, and his touchdown pass was reminiscent of the sort of thing Wentz used to do. Fourth-and-18, under pressure, rolled right, found Greg Ward in the end zone from 32 yards.
“He did some good things. He used his legs when he had to, made a really nice throw to Greg Ward ... that was the spark that really got us back into this football game,” Pederson said.
When Jalen Reagor took Ward’s spot for a punt return and brought the ball back 73 yards for a touchdown that made it 23-16, after Jake Elliott’s missed extra point, the Eagles were alive , with six and a half minutes remaining.
Until they weren’t. A team that has done a solid job of stopping running backs this season gave up a 77-yard touchdown run to Aaron Jones, and that was that for dreams of a season-altering victory.
“One more play,” said safety Jalen Mills. “One more play to try to get our offense on the field one more time.”
Darius Slay left with an injury after giving up two touchdown catches to Davante Adams, who torched the Eagles for 10 catches on 12 targets for 121 yards.
“I’m trying to do what I can do for this team,” Hurts said when asked if he thought he should start against the Saints. He completed 5 of 12 passes for 109 yards. “I think that’s as simple as that. Working hard, every day, putting my best foot forward, and taking somebody with me. I’m trying to lead, and just get this thing in the right direction.”
The Eagles actually got off to a decent start. They took the opening kickoff and marched — well, inched — downfield, 15 plays, 41 yards before Elliott’s 52-yard field goal gave them the lead for the first time in four games. Wentz’s third-down pass to Boston Scott would have kept the drive going, but Scott’s arm was held, and there was no pass interference call.
They shut down the Packers on Green Bay’s first possession, got the ball back, and were driving again. Maybe all that taking of accountability this past week, and that reported players-only meeting, would actually mean something.
Nah. Rodgers drove the Pack 88 yards on 14 plays, ending with a fourth-and-goal pass from the 1 to Adams, covered by Slay.
Then the Eagles offense went into hibernation. The visitors got a first down on a neutral zone infraction but could do nothing with it, Wentz going down on his third sack in three series, on a third-down blitz.
Rodgers, who threw his 400th touchdown pass Sunday, had the Eagles figured out. Seven plays, 82 yards, effortlessly flicking a 25-yard touchdown pass to Robert Tonyan, wide open behind the defense. The Eagles were behind, 14-3, at halftime after one of the most lopsided second quarters ever played.
Rodgers went into halftime 13-for-14 for 161 yards and two touchdowns; Wentz was 5-for-12 for 38, with four sacks. The Eagles gained 90 yards in the first half, 41 of them on that first drive.
After Rodgers authored a 99-yard drive that took only seven plays to hit Adams for yet another touchdown, it was 20-3 and finally, time for Hurts. Wentz committed no turnovers but was not able to get his offense into the red zone.
The Eagles also lifted Jason Peters, who was playing right guard with a toe injury, for Nate Herbig, and on third-and-4 of the first entire series of the season Hurts was given, he hit Reagor down the sideline for 34 yards, to the Packers’ 35. But an Isaac Seumalo holding penalty on a nice Scott run killed the drive. The penalty was not obvious on replay.
Asked how he assessed his play, Hurts said: “Not enough. Not enough. Not enough, we lost the game.”