It had been eight months since Carson Wentz last took to an NFL field. Expectations had never been higher. The $129M man was surrounded by a star-studded offense and was fully healthy after a tumultuous pair of campaigns. In 2018, the Carson Wentz we saw was very different to the ‘should have been’ MVP one year prior. Were we going to see the old Carson Wentz?
The Eagles and a sold-out Lincoln Financial field got something better. It inevitably took a while for the rust to be shaken off, but the world bore witness to a new Carson Wentz.
Completing 28/39 passes for 313 yards and 3 touchdowns with no interceptions, Wentz may have looked conservative early on, but the natural gunslinger led the Eagles to four consecutive touchdown drives and became a third-down machine, with 197 yards and all of his touchdowns all coming on the money down.
“First of all, it felt great.” Carson Wentz explained after the game. “It felt great to finally get out there. It was a long offseason with a lot of things going on, so to finally be out here in front of our fans, running out of the tunnel, it felt awesome. Obviously, it was a little bit of a slower start than we would have liked as a team, but it was good to see our resilience and how we stayed together, do what we do, and finish the ball game on that 19-play drive. It was a good day for us.”
But then, Wentz went on to say something interesting.
“Our strategy is to just take completions and take what they give us. In that case, they gave us that shot. It was a foot race between DeSean and their corner, and DeSean made them pay. It gave the offense, the defense, and the stadium that spark. To be able to do that on a third-down play was huge for us.”
The DeSean Jackson impact paid dividends, for sure. 154 yards and 2 touchdowns on 8 receptions don’t do his return to Philadelphia justice. But Wentz ‘taking what the defense gave’ was arguably the difference-maker.
Last year, hampered by a knee brace that made it difficult to put weight on a recovering ACL, Wentz struggled to get off his primary read. At times, he struggled to feel the whole field. He was too aggressive, threw caution to the wind erratically and would often toss the ball out as he’s brought to the ground out of desperation. All of that seemed to disappear on Sunday.
It’s easy to forget, but in that blowout loss to New Orleans last year, Wentz was rattled and it was the first time we’d really seen that side of him. There came a time where he was just slinging passes down deep without rhyme or reason and that became his undoing as the lead grew greater and greater. Sunday was a very, very different story. Wentz was fast in his reads, fast in his delivery and fantastic in his execution.
“I thought he played within himself.” Doug Pederson said following the comeback win. “I thought he really saw the field extremely well. Distributed the ball well. Made the checks that we needed him to make. He played well. Obviously, we will look at the tape tomorrow and see, but I think just my [gut reaction] just says that he played well.”
In the first half, called a play-action pass that was designed to get [WR] Alshon [Jeffery] the ball and we ran a jet motion, and the safety, 20, I can’t remember his number, I think it was 23, may have been the corner or the safety was going with Nelly [WR Nelson Agholor] on the motion, but then he stopped and [QB] Carson [Wentz] was coming off the play fake and he saw him sitting there and instead of either trying to force it or move, [RB] Jordan Howard was in the flat, and he just dropped it right down to him, so getting through the progression. Late in the game, he did the same thing.
Right before the field goal, another opportunity. I called a pass again. He had an opportunity to shoot the ball down the field. It wasn’t there. Put the ball in the flat. Those are the things we talk about. He’s just going through the progression, understanding the defense, putting the ball in the playmaker’s hands and continuing to work that way.”
Wentz still made heroic plays outside the pocket. He still razzled and dazzled the ball into the tiniest of windows. But what we saw on Sunday was a quarterback with more self-awareness. Someone who despite being down by a shocking amount at halftime, retained composure and surgically led his offense to an emphatic comeback. He didn’t bite the hand off the defense when they teased him into taking a risky shot down the field, he instead made his money with whatever mismatch they presented.
One has to wonder whether factually correct or not, if that controversial article that ripped Wentz’s character to shreds in the offseason perhaps showed Wentz the mirror of self-reflection both on the field and off of it. Wentz has been ‘the guy’ for three years now, but now he seems to be ‘the man’.
With some crucial games in the pipeline including this week’s primetime clash against Atlanta that could easily hit ‘shootout’ territory, it will be interesting to see how Wentz, who is comfortably dancing around the pocket once again, is able to broach the matchups that lie ahead.
The Carson Wentz of 2017 was electrifying. The Carson Wentz of 2018 was chained back due to injury and numerous other factors. The Carson Wentz of 2019 is the coming of age party…and you’re all invited.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports