LANDOVER, Md. -- When Carson Wentz addressed the media this past Wednesday, the Washington Commanders starting quarterback expressed overall excitement about the opportunity to face his former team, the Philadelphia Eagles, for the first time since they traded him.
It didn't take long after kickoff of Sunday afternoon's tilt between Washington and Philadelphia for that excitement to fade away.
Wentz was sacked nine times on the day, six of which came in the first half. The Commanders' offense, for a second consecutive week, failed to sustain any type of offensive momentum in the first half; the Eagles took a three-possession lead into the halftime break before coasting to a 24-8 victory.
Following the game, Wentz took the blame for the unit's overall poor performance, saying Sunday's effort was far from the standard he holds himself to.
"Definitely not good enough," Wentz said on his play. "That's a good defense. It's a good team, they got after us. I did not play to my standards, especially early. I think that's tough. And unfortunately, in back-to-back weeks we’ve dug ourselves a hole. I got to be better, especially early on, so that we're not having to throw the whole second half and let them play coverage and do some things differently. So I got to be better.”
Any momentum the Commanders' offense attempted to gain early on was quickly negated by the inability to protect Wentz. On the team's opening drive, Wentz was brought down on a third-down play that forced a punt. Then on the team's next offensive possession, he was sacked on back-to-back plays to begin the drive, one that ultimately resulted in another Tress Way punt.
That same trend continued on the Commanders' third offensive drive. Washington picked up a pair of first downs before a third-down sack near midfield forced the group to punt once again.
On at least two of the sacks, Wentz appeared to have multiple chances to get rid of the ball before being taken down. Following the game, the quarterback took responsibility for just that, placing blame on himself for holding onto the football too long.
"Any time there's a number like that, that is not the O-line. That is not on the O-line. I got to be better," Wentz said. "I got to get rid of the ball in a lot of those situations and find a way to just find a check down and move on and different things like that. So hats off to their D-line, their front. It’s a good front but I got to be better and help our guys out."
While Wentz took the blame for the Commanders' lack of protection, head coach Ron Rivera offered a different point of view.
“We’ve got to protect a little bit better," Rivera said. "We missed some opportunities to give him a little bit of time. We had some guys open, but we didn't have time. And that's unfortunate.”
Left tackle Charles Leno, a team captain, also took responsibility for allowing his quarterback to be sacked nine times.
"A lot of pressure early; Carson couldn't get his feet set," Leno said. "That's on me, that's on the offensive line. ... The first half, we seemed constipated. We couldn't get [expletive] going. That's how it was. You've got to be able to find a way to move the ball, move the chains and convert."
Protection wasn't the only issue Washington's offense faced in the first half. Even on the plays where Wentz wasn't sacked, he was unable to push the ball downfield or get the football into the hands of one of Washington's playmakers. Terry McLaurin didn't have a catch in the first half; Jahan Dotson had just one reception for three yards during that same span.
"Offensively we couldn't sustain drives well enough. We didn't make enough plays on the outside to sustain drives," McLaurin said, before later adding: "We've got to try to do the best thing we can to help Carson get the ball out of his hands. As receivers, we can do that by trying to be precise on our routes and getting open."
The Commanders' offense played significantly better in the second half of Sunday's contest, but the hole the club dug itself in the first half was simply too large to overcome. Even with improved play over the final 30 minutes, Washington failed to ever make it truly close.
“They lined up and did their thing and we tried to do the same. We got out-executed," Wentz said. "They did better than us today and we'll have to learn from it and get better.”
Facing the Eagles for the first time since the trade, Wentz said it felt "surreal" pregame to see a bunch of his former teammates but that it was "just another football game" once the ball was kicked off. FedEx Field was packed with Eagles fans, too, many of which took the opportunity to cheer against their former quarterback.
Wentz downplayed the idea that the emotions of playing his former team impacted his individual outing, though. Rather, he gave credit to the Eagles' defense and their personnel for his so-so performance.
"They just got our number today. I don't think the performance was affected by that," Wentz said. "I've obviously been on that side of the ball. I know the Eagles fans travel well and they showed up. They had a lot to cheer for today because we didn't play our best ball. I didn’t play my best ball. And hats off to them.”
For as disappointing as the past two weeks have been for the Commanders, they must put Sunday's game behind them quickly. Washington travels to Dallas for another pivotal NFC East clash next week; there's no time to dwell on the loss.
“We’ve got to learn from it tomorrow. We’ll be in there first thing in the morning and learning from it, working out, getting ready to move on," Wentz said. "And we got another divisional rival, another big game down there. I still feel we’ve got a lot of optimism in this locker room. I think we're very confident in what we can be. We just got to find a way to consistently show that and do that.”