Eagles roll over 49ers despite off day from Carson Wentz

Eagles roll over 49ers despite off day from Carson Wentz

Even when things aren't going smoothly for Carson Wentz, the second-year quarterback keeps finding ways to get the job done.

Wentz played arguably his worst game of the 2017 season Sunday. He missed wide-open receivers. He took sacks. The offense was inconsistent as a whole. And yet the Eagles still managed to defeat the 49ers, 33-10 (see breakdown).

Much like the steady rainfall at Lincoln Financial Field, Wentz's performance wasn't pretty. But it was good enough.

"We were sluggish early on," Wentz said. "(The 49ers) did some good things that kind of limited what we did offensively, and we just had to make some adjustments and stick to our game plan.

“Offensively, I know we have to be better. We have to be better in starting out sluggish like that two straight weeks, and we have to get that cleaned up.”

Wentz completed 18 of 32 passes (56.3 percent) for 211 yards with two touchdowns and one interception for an 84.2 passer rating — one point higher than his lowest mark of the season. We could quibble over which outing is actually the 24-year-old's worst, but this was against a 49ers squad still searching for its first win.

San Francisco was tied at zero or behind 3-0 for almost the entire first half.

"First of all, it's a good defense," coach Doug Pederson said. "They are very active on third down, really active on all downs.

“We didn't execute the protection as well. We got it fixed and were able to kind of hold it and piece it together, but at the same time, we've got to do better in that area.”

Protection was one of the issues. The 49ers blitzed early and often, sending a variety of pressures, some of which the Eagles hadn't seen on film. Wentz was sacked three times, all in the first half, before the offense was able to get it corrected.

The pass rush has become a common theme in the Eagles' slow starts of late, as defenses continue to search for ways to rattle Wentz.

"We're seeing blitz quite a bit," Pederson said. "I think we're probably the No. 1 team, offensively, that's being blitzed in the NFL right now. Teams are just coming after us.

“I don't know if it necessarily disrupted Carson. Obviously, it made him move around a little bit in the game, but later on, we were able to fix the protection.”

Pressure was certainly one aspect, but Wentz also missed the mark at times, including a potential 22-yard touchdown to Alshon Jeffery late in the first quarter.

Jeffery had his man beat. Wentz's 3rd-and-8 pass was overthrown. And while there was a pass rusher in his face, it's a play that was there to be made.

Fortunately, Wentz doesn't let the occasional misses bother him too much.

"It's a next-play mentality," Wentz said. "When you play this much, you're going to miss some throws. It kind of ticks me off right away, but it's just on to the next.

"I know I still have confidence in myself, coach still has confidence that we'll make the throw the next play. There's a handful of them this afternoon that I definitely wanted back, but that's the way it goes sometimes."

Wentz would eventually find Jeffery for their first big hook-up of the season — a 53-yard touchdown in the third quarter that helped put the 49ers away (see Roob's observations).

"We've missed a couple of those throughout the season, so when we finally hit that one today, I was super excited because I just have to get that guy a chance to make plays sometimes," Wentz said.

“He went up and got that ball, broke some tackles, got in the end zone, and that's why we brought him here. We brought him here to make those big plays.”

Big plays such as those have helped the Eagles snap out of similar funks at the beginnings of their games against the Redskins and Panthers. The ability to go the distance of the field in a snap demoralizes opponents, as it seemed to the 49ers, who were only down 20-7 at the time.

But the other reason the Eagles have been able to survive slow starts by Wentz and company is the defense. Shortly after the Eagles pulled ahead 9-0 late in the second, it was a Jalen Mills interception and 37-yard return for a touchdown that initially gave the team a commanding lead.

By simply limiting turnovers — just the one interception — Wentz was able to manage the game.

"I think he did a good job as far as not turning the ball over today, and we did a good job as far as causing turnovers today," defensive end Brandon Graham said. "We just have to make sure we keep protecting the offense and keep hiding some of the flaws sometimes.

“When we can't get it going (on offense), we have to make sure we get them going by bringing our energy.”

The Eagles' offense was thankful for the bailout.

“It was just really sloppy, probably the sloppiest we've been all year," Johnson said. "Hats off to the defense. They definitely won the game for us.”

Though it rained for much of the contest and the field was wet throughout, Wentz downplayed the conditions as a reason for his struggles, calling the weather a "non-factor." He certainly seemed to be pushing the ball downfield with minimal issues and no noticeable effect (see report card).

It simply wasn't the offense's best game, and while it may have been good enough to beat the 49ers, everybody realizes it might not be enough next week or the week after.

"I'm happy. I'm just disappointed," Johnson said. "Any time the offense doesn't play the way we're capable of, it feels like a loss for us.

“We found a way to win, but just kind of disappointed with how we played today.”

At the same time, the fact the Eagles won without Wentz's completing 70 percent of his passes, throwing for over 300 yards or scoring four touchdowns was a positive. It was proof this team is more than just its quarterback and is capable of winning even when Wentz doesn't have his best day.

“At the end of the day, if the quarterback, in Carson's case, doesn't have the numbers but we win, I'd rather have the win," Pederson said. "We can fix the other and get better, and move on to next week.”

Wentz is on pace to throw for 4,126 yards, with 38 touchdowns to 10 interceptions, and he has the Eagles off to a 7-1 record. I think he's going to be just fine.

Jeffrey Lurie deserves more credit

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Jeffrey Lurie deserves more credit

There’s one person who’s been here for all of it. From the wild-card win over the Lions at the Vet in 1995 to the win over the Falcons last weekend at the Linc. 

There’s one constant over the years with the Eagles, and that’s owner Jeff Lurie, and I don’t think he’s ever been appreciated enough for the organization he’s built, and I don’t think he’s ever been given enough credit for the way he’s built it.

Since 1995, the first year that Lurie had complete control of the franchise, the Eagles have reached the playoffs 13 times, and only the Packers, Colts, Steelers and Patriots have gotten there more. 

Today’s game against the Vikings will be the Eagles’ sixth conference championship game under Lurie’s ownership, and only the Patriots have been to more during that 23-year span.

We’re all aware the Eagles have never won a Super Bowl and haven’t won a championship since 1960, but Lurie has done absolutely everything in his power to build a winner since the day he got here.

He has never hesitated to spend money — tons of money — for free agents. Somewhere along the line, Lurie gained the reputation for being cheap when nothing could be farther from the truth. 

From Troy Vincent and Irving Fryar in the mid-1990s to Jevon Kearse and Jon Runyan and Asante Samuel and Nnamdi Asomugha and Stacy Andrews, the Eagles have always out-spent everybody in their pursuit of talent. 

Now, all those guys didn’t pan out. We know all about the Eagles’ free agent busts over the years. There have been plenty of them. But that’s not Lurie’s fault. He always trusted his personnel guys, and that’s what a good owner does. When they wanted a player, he wrote the check. 

He gave fans one of the nicest stadiums in the NFL. He got the NovaCare Complex built, helping make Philly an attractive destination for free agents. He's hired four head coaches, and the first two — Ray Rhodes and Andy Reid — were named Coach of the Year within their first few seasons. Chip Kelly could have been in 2013. Doug Pederson should be this year.

He approved the Michael Vick signing after a long and careful evaluation period when no other owner wanted anything to do with him, facilitating Vick's reinvention as a playoff quarterback as well as a productive member of society.

He navigated the franchise through a stormy transition from Joe Banner's stewardship of the front office to Howie Roseman's. He went out and hired Joe Douglas, which has paid immediate dividends in terms of talent.

He's brilliantly re-connected the franchise with its past, something his predecessor, Norman Braman, refused to do. Guys who gave everything they had for this franchise years ago and decades ago are once more made to feel a part of things instead of being forgotten and ignored. The historical displays at the Linc give real meaning to the 85-year history of one of the NFL's original franchises.

And he was in the middle of one of the most important decisions in Eagles history — the decision to move up to the No. 2 spot in the 2016 draft by any means necessary, whatever the cost, to draft Carson Wentz.

The organization's realization that until it had an elite franchise quarterback in place it wasn't likely to make a Super Bowl run was critical, and Lurie led that charge.

There have been mistakes and misjudgments along the way. That's going to happen when you run a franchise for a quarter of a century.

He allowed Brian Dawkins to leave after the 2008 season. He stuck with Reid one year too long. He shouldn't have given Chip unlimited power after the 2014 season. 

But the overall body of work? Overwhelmingly positive.

Since 1995, the Eagles have won 10 or more games 13 times in 23 seasons. Their overall record since Lurie took over — 206-160-2 (.563) — is sixth-best in the NFL during that span, second only to the Packers in the NFC.

And now they're one game from their second Super Bowl under Lurie, one game from winning the NFC with Pederson coaching and Nick Foles quarterbacking.

All the criticisms we've always heard about Lurie — he's an outsider, he's only in it to get rich, he's too cheap — are so ridiculously off-base and always have been.

Without Lurie there is no Reid or Pederson, which means there is no Tom Modrak or Howie Roseman, which means there is no Donovan McNabb or Wentz, there is no Dawk or Hugh or Trott, there is no Brian Westbrook or Jason Peters.

No, the Eagles haven't won a championship since Lurie bought the team, but he's done everything he could to make it happen.

And if not this year, the Eagles sure are in a tremendous position to keep making deep playoff runs for the foreseeable future.

Lurie wants this as bad as you do. He really does. 

It's time to appreciate what he's done for this franchise and recognize that without him, today would probably be just another lazy January Sunday where we all sat in front of the TV and watched somebody else play football.

Unselfish veterans key to Eagles' offensive success

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Unselfish veterans key to Eagles' offensive success

When LeGarrette Blount was a rookie with the Buccaneers back in 2010, he wanted the ball. All the time. Every snap. Most rookies do.

Didn't happen. Bucs offensive coordinator Greg Olsen — who was at the Linc last weekend with the Falcons — made sure former 1,000-yard rusher Cadillac Williams got his touches, as well.

Blount respected Williams but wasn't crazy about the arrangement.

"Obviously, I wanted the football," Blount said of his younger self. "I felt like I was the better back, but Cadillac Williams had been a top-5 pick a few years earlier, he had been Rookie of the Year, he had an amazing career before his knee injury (in 2007).

"And Earnest Graham was one of my teammates, and he would just be like, ‘Man, be patient, wait your turn, it’ll come full circle, I promise you.’ 

"And so I waited and I was patient and my turn did come, and from then on I figured, 'OK, patience is the big key.' Don’t worry about yourself. Keep on grinding and preparing, and when your chance comes just make the best of it."

Seven years later, Blount has essentially become Earnest Graham, the wise old veteran who preaches patience and unselfishness to his younger teammates.

The Eagles don't have a 1,000-yarder rusher, they don't have a 1,000-yard receiver, but they do have 13 regular-season wins, a playoff win over the Falcons and a spot Sunday in the NFC Championship Game.

They're only the fifth team in the last 30 years to play in a conference title game without a 1,000-yard rusher or receiver. And they're the first in 11 years to get this far without anybody even reaching 900 yards.

And without veteran stars like Blount and Alshon Jeffery setting the tone with their unselfish approach, this sort of balanced approach to offense just doesn't work.

“We’ve had games where I didn’t have any carries, we’ve had games where Alshon didn’t have any catches, and we’re winning, and that’s the overall goal," Blount said.

"We couldn’t care less how many catches or how many carries or how many yards any one guy has. We all have one common goal in hand. We all have one thing that we all want more than anything."

We've all seen what happens when a star receiver or running back mouths off about his role or even complain quietly in the locker room to his teammates.

It creates hostility and jealousy. It puts coaches in a tricky position. It can sway a quarterback to target players to keep them happy instead of just running the offense. And worst of all, it can influence younger impressionable players to behave the same way.

These things can all crush a team.

But when guys like Blount, a two-time Super Bowl winner who led the NFL in touchdowns last year, and Jeffery, a Pro Bowler and two-time 1,000-yard receiver, are unselfish, team-first guys, it does the opposite. The young guys always want to be like the veterans, and when those veterans are setting an unselfish tone, it has a ripple effect throughout the roster.

"Me coming in as a young guy I already had that mindset when I got here that whatever the team needs that’s what I’m going to do," rookie receiver Mack Hollins said.

"But when you see your stars doing the same thing? That's huge. If you have guys who are demanding the ball or demanding touches, whatever they’re demanding, once you start demanding stuff, that’s when everything starts to fall apart. 

"You demand stuff, the ball ends up in places it’s not supposed to be and then you stop winning games. Having older guys, your so-called stars, that aren’t worried about what they get, they’re only worried about what we get, that’s critical to our success.”

The last team to reach a conference championship game without a 1,000-yard receiver or runner was the 2006 Patriots. The last to do it in the NFC was the 2003 Eagles and that was more a lack of talent than a real sense of unselfishness. The last NFC team to reach a Super Bowl without a 1,000-yard runner or receiver was the 1996 Packers.

Guess who was a backup quarterback on that team.

Doug Pederson.

It's Pederson who has set the tone for this team's steadfast unselfishness, but it wouldn't work if guys like Jeffery and Blount didn't totally buy in.

"I didn't have to sell it too much," Pederson said. "These guys are unselfish players. They are team players No. 1, and they are great additions to our football team and they have helped us get to this position in this conference championship.

"So it's not a big sell with them. Bottom line is both those guys just want to win the game."

The win last weekend against the Falcons was typical. Six guys had between three and five catches and between 24 and 61 yards.

During the regular season, three receivers had between 789 and 824 yards. Seven others had at least 120 receiving yards. And five running backs had at least 150 rushing yards but none had 800.

It's not going to get anybody to the Pro Bowl, but it sure makes the Eagles difficult to defend.

"It's not basketball, it's football," Jeffery said. "Football, you need everybody. If a lot of players or anyone got a lot of stats besides the quarterback, I mean, I don't think your team is doing too well. I'm just being honest."

Blount had the Eagles' only 100-yard rushing game — against the Chargers back on Oct. 1. Nelson Agholor, Zach Ertz and Torrey Smith each had a 100-yard receiving game. 

Nobody had more than one.

"Sometimes you just have to put it all on the line, and you can’t be selfish when everybody has one common goal because you have to make sacrifices for the better of the team," Blount said. "We’ve done that and it’s gotten us this far."

"There’s a lot of things that you can do that could be (selfish) but we’re a family, man. We love each other. We have each others’ back. That’s what’s gotten us this far throughout the injuries of guys and everything else."

The Eagles are one win away from riding this unselfishness, this team-first mentality, to the Super Bowl.

They face the Vikings at 6:40 p.m. Sunday at the Linc in the NFC Championship Game.

If all goes to form, they won't have a 100-yard rusher or receiver, but they'll have something a lot more meaningful.

Another win.

"This is just a pretty unselfish team all in all," Blount said. "From the O-line to the receivers to the quarterback, we have a really unselfish team at every position and that’s what you need. 

"You have guys that go out there and will do anything for a win, and if that requires them not playing as much or playing less, whatever it may be, they’re all aboard. That's why we are where we are."