Eagles' Reich: Losing finally getting to Carson Wentz

The big kid was so confident, not in a bad way, but in a way so infectious and magnetic that even veteran coaches found themselves caught up in the aura of Carson Wentz, the 23-year-old who could handle anything.

It was that aura of readiness that led the team to trade Sam Bradford a week before the start of the regular season and dismiss the necessity of using Chase Daniel for even a brief babysitting period.

Everyone agreed there would be a learning curve, and it would be steep at times, but everyone also agreed this would work, including Wentz. Why shouldn't he believe? He started 23 games in his college career and won 20 of them. Losing consistently or for an extended period was a concept he never experienced. It was for someone else.

Here we are 12 games into the season and whatever cape of invincibility Wentz brought to the NFL has been stripped away by the challenge of playing quarterback for a mediocre team, by the daunting lessons of learning the game on the fly while losses pile up. Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich says Wentz is still the same tough, confident kid, but there is a toll being taken.

"For a while, I thought he seemed unflappable," Reich said Tuesday. "Now, in some of the more recent losses, . . . you sense that this is, 'OK, he's feeling this one, he's feeling this one.' Yeah, we're all feeling it."

Wentz is feeling it particularly because that's what quarterbacks do. They are the focus of every team. In the last stretch of losses, to Seattle, Green Bay, and Cincinnati, just as the Eagles season was there to either save or sacrifice, Wentz has played poorly. His quarterback rating hasn't been above 75.5 (it was a season-low 58.2 against Cincinnati) and he has thrown three touchdown passes and six interceptions. The overall rating, which was 103.5 four games into the season, is now 80.1, which puts him 28th in the league.

It is an unfair measure, for a lot of reasons, to say Wentz couldn't keep pace with Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, and Andy Dalton in these last three games. None of them look around the huddle and see the same anchors that weigh down Wentz, but quarterbacks are wired to feel responsible, regardless of the circumstance.

"I think he was that young, naive, in a good sense, but still very mature guy who came in and it was like, 'Nothing is going to get this guy down,' " Reich said. "But it wears on you. It wears on you. Losing wears on you in this league."

Veteran quarterbacks, even successful ones, aren't immune to that, either, but rookies are just learning to handle the adversity. They can try to do too much. They can, as Wentz did against the Bengals, throw deep down the middle despite the presence of two safeties and suffer the predictable result.

"I've seen the best of them get broken down. The most confident quarterbacks in the world lose their confidence and get battered, OK?" Reich said. "Every quarterback tries to do too much, especially when you're not generating the points that we want to generate. Are there going to be times when you try to do too much? Yes, absolutely. Has it happened? Yeah, but I don't think it's happened as much as it could have, to be honest with you. I think he's handled it pretty well."

When the Eagles headed into Seattle with a 5-4 record, the team was averaging 25 points per game. Subtracting the four touchdowns scored by the defense and special teams, the offense was still averaging 22 points. Since then, the Eagles have been held to 15, 13, and 14 points, and have been outscored, 49-17, in the first halves of those games. It's no wonder Wentz has tried to carry things by himself on occasion, or that he has been affected by the losses.

"Trust me, this guy is . . . mentally and physically very tough, and he's very mature," Reich said. "Because you've got to be to play the position and certainly to play here in this city, and he welcomes that, and we welcome that. We're glad we have him."

He'll be a rookie only for another four games (and only 23 years old for another three weeks), and all of this will get easier eventually. Not the grind of coming up short or the weight of expectation on the quarterback. But dealing with it all will be easier the second time around and beyond.

Learning how to win is important, of course. What Carson Wentz is doing is learning how to lose. Of all the aspects in which he entered the league lacking experience, that might have been the biggest one.

bford@phillynews.com

@bobfordsports