LOS ANGELES — The sight of Carson Wentz walking off the field late in the third quarter with a towel over his head and a trainer walking next to him was enough to make any Eagles fan's heart stop and send them into shock.
He's taken over our city with such class and grace, it's hard to even remember a time when he wasn't the Eagles' quarterback. It's tough to even imagine playing without him.
But that's the reality we're facing right now. This team has been incredibly resilient all year, and they came from behind to beat a 9-3 Rams team in their own building Sunday without Wentz. With this team? You just never know.
With the dramatic 43-35 win over the Rams at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum Sunday afternoon, the Eagles improved to 11-2 and clinched the NFC East (see breakdown).
So as we all await an update on Wentz, here are tonight's 10 Observations.
1. Without immediately knowing the extent of Wentz's injury, it's tough to really speculate what this means for the Eagles. With Wentz, the Eagles are a legit Super Bowl contender. Without him? Nick Foles is certainly one of the better backups in the league and is capable of winning a couple games if Wentz is out for a few weeks or longer, especially considering the Eagles finish the regular season with the Giants at the Meadowlands and then the Raiders and Cowboys at home. But Wentz is what makes this team special, and his absence certainly changes everything. Without knowing any details, one alarming thing for me is how quickly Wentz was ruled out after he left the game. The Eagles have kept this thing rolling without Jason Peters, without Darren Sproles, without Jordan Hicks, and they deserve a tremendous amount of credit for that. But if Wentz is forced to miss any appreciable time … it's just hard to imagine this team accomplishing anything special without No. 11 behind center. Wentz has been so incredibly tough over these first 29 games of his career it's hard to even fathom him getting hurt. I think of him as some sort of superhero. Invincible. Watching him walk off the field reminded me of seeing Randall Cunningham carted off the field on opening day at Lambeau Field in 1991. Some things your brain just can't process.
2. Foles? He looked rusty, which you would expect. In his first extended playing time since Nov. 6 of last year with the Chiefs, he completed a few difficult passes, engineered two fourth-quarter field goal drives, made a huge 3rd-and-8 connection with Nelson Agholor just after the two-minute warning, and generally avoided the kind of mistakes that backup quarterbacks often make. Foles is a good quarterback. He'll never be what we saw in 2013. But if Wentz does miss significant time, there aren't a lot of backups I'd rather have.
3. I was eager to see how the Eagles' defense would stack up against one of the NFL's top offenses, and for much of the game, it wasn't pretty. The Rams piled up 28 points in the game's first 46 minutes — they also scored on special teams — and Todd Gurley, despite just 13 carries, really gashed the Eagles, running for 96 yards and two touchdowns along with three catches for 39 more yards. The Eagles' tackling was terrible for much of the game, they didn't force any turnovers for 3 1/2 quarters, Jared Goff was playing efficient and productive football and hitting some big plays. Then Chris Long and Rodney McLeod made the kind of play that great defenses make. Long stripped Goff and McLeod recovered, and that set up Jake Elliott's game-winning field goal. And on the Rams' next drive, which started with 3:45 on the clock, the Rams didn't gain a yard, and then the Eagles essentially ran out the clock. It wasn't always pretty, but the Eagles went into the L.A. Coliseum and beat one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL, and the defense's performance in the fourth quarter is one of the big reasons. When they had to stop the Rams, they did.
4. I really like the way LeGarrette Blount has handled this season, especially his unselfish, team-first approach after the Jay Ajayi acquisition. And Blount has really run the ball well. But I feel like we're at the point where Ajayi needs to be this team's lead running back. Doug Pederson clearly wants a rotation and doesn't want to upset the balance the Eagles have had so far. He feels like it makes the Eagles unpredictable and tougher to defend. But Ajayi just looks explosive right now, even without much work. He's only had 44 carries in the five games he's played, but among them are runs of 71, 46, 30 and 29 yards. He's averaging 7.0 yards per carry since getting here, which is nuts. He knows the offense. He knows the system. He's comfortable with this offensive line. Blount was 7 for 12 Sunday, Ajayi was 15 for 78. Ajayi has to be the guy from here on out.
5. The Rams committed three really stupid three personal fouls in the second half, the first two extending a touchdown drive. Those are penalties great teams don't commit. They're penalties the Eagles don't commit. It really kind of puts into focus how the Eagles really don't lose their cool in the face of adversity, which isn't always an easy thing to do.
6. Was nice to see a big contribution from Torrey Smith Sunday, with 6 for 100 — his first 100-yard game since 2015 and only his second since 2013. Smith has been a non-factor the last two months — just 7 for 98 in his last seven games before Sunday — but he's not the kind of guy to hang his head or demand the ball. He just kept working, and Sunday it paid off.
7. Alshon Jeffery continues to play better than his numbers. He finished 5 for 52 Sunday, but that third-quarter touchdown, where he scooped the ball off the ground just before it hit the field, was a thing of beauty and a huge play on fourth down. Jeffery doesn't have huge numbers, but he does have eight touchdowns, including six in the last six games.
8. How about some props for Trey Burton? This kid has to be the best third tight end in the history of the universe. And what a story. Undrafted out of Florida in 2014, made an immediate impact on special teams, only had three catches his first two seasons, gradually worked his way into the rotation and is now a legit target for Wentz. With Zach Ertz unable to play Sunday with lingering effects of a concussion, Burton caught four passes for 55 yards, the second-most yards of his four-year career, and had his first two-TD game. Burton had one TD in his first 50 games and has four in his last eight. The kid is big and fast, has the softest hands, rarely drops anything, and Wentz clearly loves throwing to him. Burton is due to become a free agent after the season, and the Eagles really need to find a way to keep him.
9. I know it didn’t mean anything in the big picture, but Brandon Graham deserves to get into the end zone. The way that guy plays and what he’s meant to this team over three head coaches and five defensive coordinators and six position coaches? His touchdown on the final play of the game, as the Rams fumbled trying to run some crazy length-of-the-field trick play, gave the Eagles a welcome exclamation point on a wild win. It was the first TD of Graham's eight-year career, and I know he's going to enjoy it.
10. Finally this. Whatever Wentz's injury turns out to be, allow me to put Wentz's recent run in perspective. He threw 27 touchdown passes in the Eagles' last nine games. Only six QBs in NFL history — Tom Brady, Dan Marino, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and George Blanda — have ever thrown more in any nine-game span. All are Hall of Famers. Whatever happens from here on out, this is a special kid and however much time he misses, he's going to win a ton of football games for this franchise over the next decade.