Eagles

Carson Wentz's 'escapability was right on point' in Eagles' preseason opener

Carson Wentz's 'escapability was right on point' in Eagles' preseason opener

How good was Carson Wentz in the Eagles’ first preseason game of 2017? By some measures, the second-year quarterback was perfect.

Wentz completed all four of his pass attempts for 56 yards and a touchdown in his only series of work during a 24-9 loss to the Packers on Thursday (see Instant Replay). That’s an immaculate 100 percent completion rate to go with a sparkling 158.3 passer rating – the highest number possible.

He was only on the field 10 plays total, but Wentz was impressive while leading the Eagles across the goal line with a 38-yard touchdown to Mack Hollins. It was also far from a flawless performance, at least as far as the 24-year-old was concerned.

“I wouldn’t say perfect, first of all,” Wentz said postgame. “It was fun to see that out there. It was fun to get with the ones, to drive down, to score.

“We had a couple sloppy plays there, but we stayed on the field, we converted a couple third downs, a fourth down, and made enough plays there.”

The series was undeniably positive, especially for an Eagles team that found the end zone only four times on its opening drive last season.

“It’s obviously good for that first unit to go down and score like they did, come out and play fast,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “It’s something that’s exciting to know they can do that and score early in games.”

Imperfections aside, that touchdown drive doesn’t happen without the quarterback.

Wentz made a pair of sensational plays during the drive, twice stepping out of sacks to deliver strikes and keep the chains moving.

“His escapability was right on point,” Pederson said. “For a big guy, he’s athletic and can move, and feels the pocket extremely well.” 

It’s an area of Wentz’s game that tends to go overlooked.

Listed at 6-foot-5, 237 pounds, Wentz is not an easy person to bring down. Just ask Packers outside linebacker and six-time Pro Bowl selection Clay Matthews III, one of the defenders who was left grasping for air during the drive.

Matthews appeared to have the quarterback dead to rights. Wentz walked through the tackle attempt with relative ease.

“It’s always been part of my game,” Wentz said. “Honestly, it’s just instincts. In those situations, it’s instincts that take over.” 

Survival instincts, perhaps.

The Eagles’ offensive line was not at its best in this one. Right guard Brandon Brooks was out with an injury, and the Packers blitz more than most in preseason games, which opponents don’t bother to scheme. This is not an indictment of the O-line.

“You don’t want him moving around quite that much, but I thought he did a nice job,” Pederson said. “He kept his eyes, his vision down field. He was able to avoid the rush, and step up and deliver some nice throws on the run.

“That just shows his athleticism, his strength in the pocket, and we’re excited to see that.”

Wentz survived the onslaught, his best play unquestionably shaking a Matthews sack, then hitting Hollins for the touchdown that would make all the highlight reels.

“It kind of just turned into improvise mode, and Mack made a good play getting open,” Wentz said. “I found him and he did the rest. He had two pretty nasty stiff-arms there to finish off the play.”

Perhaps the moral of the story is Wentz being a lot tougher than he’s given credit for being. It was Hollins who stiff-armed would-be tacklers to the ground, but only after his QB extended the play.

Expect to see more of that.

“Training camp, all offseason, you don’t get touched, guys run by you and yell, ‘Sack,’” Wentz said. “Sometimes, you’re just like, ‘Hey, I don’t know if you would’ve got me there, bro.’”

Wentz just proved even a guy like Matthews might not be able to finish him. Add that ability to the Eagles’ arsenal for 2017.

Foles 'absolutely ready' to quarterback playoff-bound Eagles if needed

Foles 'absolutely ready' to quarterback playoff-bound Eagles if needed

LOS ANGELES — He went in to play for one team that gave up on him against another team that gave up on him.

Such is life in the NFL as a backup quarterback.

Nick Foles, now 28 years old and in his sixth NFL season, relieved an injured Carson Wentz Sunday night at the start of the fourth quarter and engineered two field goal drives as the Eagles rallied past the Rams, 43-35, at L.A. Memorial Coliseum (see breakdown).

“He was unbelievable," tight end Trey Burton said. "He stepped in there and led us and took us where we needed to be.

"He’s an unbelievable quarterback. A lot of people sometimes might forget about that, but he’s won a lot of games and he’s set a lot of records."

Although there was no word from the Eagles, team officials believe Wentz has a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, which would presumably end his season.

If that's the case, the 11-2 Eagles would go into the playoffs with Foles at quarterback.

“I’m absolutely ready," Foles said. "That’s why I’m here. I’m ready to go. Prepare every day, work every day, ready to go if need be. That’s my job. That’s why they brought me here."

Foles didn't exactly light up the Rams, but also, in his first extended playing time in more than 13 months, he didn't make any mistakes and made a few big throws under pressure.

He entered the game with the Eagles trailing 35-31 at the start of the fourth quarter and engineered two field goal drives — the second after a takeaway deep in Rams territory.

But his biggest play was a nine-yard completion to Nelson Agholor on a 3rd-and-8 with 1:52 left that enabled the Eagles to run out all but the last few seconds on the clock.

“They went two-man coverage and it was 1-on-1 inside, and Nelson did a great job of getting off his defender," Foles said.

"I threw it away from his defender, and he did a great job catching it and getting the first down and it allowed us to run a lot of the clock out, which was big."

Head coach Doug Pederson, who was Foles' position coach with the Eagles in 2013 and his offensive coordinator in K.C. last year, showed a tremendous amount of confidence in Foles on that third and long.

“I want the ball in my hands," Foles said. "I love throwing the ball. I love having the ball in my hands, making decisions.

"It’s one of those situations where, 'Hey, if it’s not there you either run (or) just don’t make it worse,' and Nelson did a great job. Coach Pederson showed a lot of confidence in me, and he knows I can go out there and play."

Foles led the Eagles to the playoffs in 2013 with a record-setting Pro Bowl season then went 6-2 in 2014 before getting hurt. He had a dismal 2015 with the Rams and then spent 2016 with the Chiefs before returning to the Eagles this past offseason.

Talk about full circle.

“It’s odd. It’s kind of crazy. But it’s one of those things you don’t really think too much about though," he said.

"You’re really just focusing on getting a 'W' and we did. A big one on the road."

The Eagles improved to 11-2 and clinched the NFC East title for the first time since 2013, Foles' big season.

"Hell of a job by Nick coming in and making plays when we needed it," Lane Johnson said.

"Nick’s a pretty good quarterback. People have forgotten the year he had a few years ago. Nick works his tail off, so I was confident he would do just fine. He was calm. Same Nick he’s always been."

Foles' numbers Sunday were modest: 6 for 10 for 42 yards plus a nine-yard scramble.

But he did exactly what he had to do (see observations).

"He prepares, he's had success before in this league as a quarterback," Malcolm Jenkins said. "We understand he's not Carson Wentz and there are some things he can't do that Carson can do, so we'll use common sense with that, but I think everybody feels good about him throwing the ball.

"That throw to [Agholor], that's a dangerous throw, but he put the ball right where it was supposed to be and allowed his receiver to make a play at a crucial point in the game. We've got a lot of faith in Nick, and we're going to lean heavily on him if Carson isn't out there."

Foles is 20-16 in his career as a starter and 15-9 as the Eagles' starter. Sunday in L.A. was his first extended playing time in an Eagles uniform in more than three years — since he suffered a season-ending broken collarbone injury in Houston midway through the 2014 season.

"I love it," Doug Pederson said. "This guy’s come in, he’s played a lot of football games in this league. He’s started in this league. Guys have confidence in him. I have confidence in him.

"Great way to step in under these circumstances and pull this game out. It’s huge for Nick."

Even hobbled and in pain, Carson Wentz shows toughness in L.A.

Even hobbled and in pain, Carson Wentz shows toughness in L.A.

LOS ANGELES — With a heavy black brace around his left knee, Carson Wentz hobbled through the postgame buffet line in the bowels of the LA Memorial Coliseum, just outside of the cramped visitor locker room.

Wearing black shorts, a black hat, a black long-sleeve AO1 shirt and headphones hanging around his neck, Wentz used a big metal spoon to scoop some catered Mexican food into a bowl.

From there, he settled himself on the back of a motorized cart that took him outside the stadium into the cooling L.A. night. He then hobbled his way again, this time from the cart, onto the team bus and out of sight.

Of course, he walked. That's just what Carson Wentz does.

After the Eagles' NFC East-clinching 43-35 win over the Rams (see breakdown), Wentz will fly back to Philadelphia with the rest of the team. Call it a 4 1/2 hour prayer session. Because Monday he'll get an MRI on his left knee. The Eagles fear he's torn it, a team source confirmed (see story).

Wentz left Sunday's game in the third quarter. He injured his left knee on a play where he scrambled and dove head-first into the end zone for a touchdown that was called back because of a holding call. 

Then he stayed in the game.

Wentz very well might have been standing on a torn ACL, but he stayed in the game for four more plays.

"It shows how tough he is, man," right tackle Lane Johnson said. "Shows how much this stuff means to him. Football means the world to him. He's a fighter. Moving forward, whatever the situation is, he's going to fight." 

Wentz's last play of the game — and possibly his MVP-like season — was a touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery.

It was his 33rd touchdown pass of the season, breaking the Eagles' single-season record. The record had stood since 1961.

"Carson's a hell of a player," Jeffery said. "A hell of a competitor. He's our MVP."

Several of Wentz's offensive teammates thought there was a chance he was hurt. After all, he did take a tough shot on that diving play. But Wentz didn't speak a word about it in the huddle. Some of his teammates didn't even realize he might have a significant injury until he made the long walk of about 110 yards from the sideline to the tunnel.

The play where the injury came is a pretty typical Wentz play. He gave up his body to try to score a touchdown. That's just the way he plays.

"That's one of the things that makes him an incredible player in this league," center Jason Kelce said.

After Wentz went inside, the team almost immediately announced he was out for the game, never a good sign.

"He's the ultimate competitor," safety Rodney McLeod said. "He stayed in strong, threw that pass to Alshon. It was one of the biggest plays of the day. We're going to celebrate. We got the win for him and we're going to move on."

As you might expect, the mood after this game was a little strange. The Eagles won the division, so they celebrated. They beat another NFC contender, so they celebrated. And they own sole possession of the top spot in the conference, so they celebrated. 

But you'll forgive them if the celebration wasn't over the top. Because, sure, they won the game, but they might have lost the heart and soul of their team (see Roob's observations).

"Yeah, it sucks, but there's nothing you can really do about it," Johnson said. "We came into this game hoping to win this game and clinch the division. That part's done. I have the utmost confidence moving forward." 

Head coach Doug Pederson said he had spoken to Wentz after the game. Pederson said Wentz was "fired up" and "excited" about clinching.

Not too long before Wentz hobbled his way to the team busses, he waited at the entrance of the visiting locker room as his comrades bounced inside after clinching the division.

Wentz was there congratulate Nick Foles and the rest of his teammates on the NFC East title.

A little while later, Wentz tweeted how proud he was of his team.

"You see his leadership, man, no matter what," linebacker Nigel Bradham said. "He's still going to be the leader of our team. He might not be out there, but he's definitely going to be out there in spirit."