Good morning, Eagles fans. I’m writing this on a redeye back from Los Angeles to Philadelphia, and there are conflicted passengers. There’s the thrill of winning a big road game over the Los Angeles Rams and clinching the NFC East crown, but these fans have the same worries you have about Carson Wentz’s knee injury. Doug Pederson holds a noon news conference, so we’ll see whether there’s an update on Wentz’s status then. You’re reading the Monday edition of Early Birds. It’s free for anyone to sign up here to receive in your inbox every weekday. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ZBerm. Thank you for reading.
— Zach Berman
Now what? Eagles are NFC East champions, but could be without Carson Wentz
That’s a question you’ll hear often this week. While Philadelphia awaits the results of Carson Wentz’s MRI exam on Monday, there should be excitement that there will be a home playoff game in South Philly for the first time since 2013 and understandable concern and disgust at the nightmarish prospect of the Eagles losing their MVP in what’s been a dream-like season.
I started last Monday’s Early Birds with the warning that the sky was not falling after the Seattle loss and to not sound an alarm. There’s more reason to sound an alarm this week, even after a big win. The Eagles take pride in how they’ve overcome injuries this season — Jason Peters, Darren Sproles, Jordan Hicks, go on down the list. This one is different.
It’s rare for a team to clinch a playoff spot and that not be the biggest story from the game. There was much to celebrate Sunday, but the players couldn’t ignore the significance of a potential season-ending injury for Wentz.
“You couldn’t tell the way everyone was in the locker room, but when you think about it, absolutely it does,” Torrey Smith said about whether it affects the celebration. “Everyone’s excited about what we were able to earn as a team, but definitely, again, you’re concerned because of him as an individual. It’s not necessarily about, ‘Man, we lost our guy, probably arguably the MVP of the league.’ It’s like, ‘Man, you hope he’s OK,’ and we’ll deal with everything else afterwards.”
If the injury ends Wentz’s season and the Eagles turn to Nick Foles, there should at least be confidence that Foles is one of the most accomplished backup quarterbacks in the NFL. The reason the Eagles were willing to absorb Chase Daniel’s $7 million salary-cap hit and give Foles a two-year, $11 million contract was to upgrade the backup quarterback spot. Foles has been to the playoffs. He’s played in big, late-season games. He entered Sunday’s game down four points and left with a win. He’s obviously not Wentz, but he’s a better Plan B than teams usually have.
“These guys have confidence in him,” coach Doug Pederson said. “I have confidence in him. Great way to step in under these circumstances and pull this game out. It’s huge for Nick.”
It was clearly a bittersweet win, but don’t forget the “sweet” part of it. That was a spectacular game between two good teams. It says a lot about the Eagles that they went into Los Angeles on that stage and flew home as division champions. Wentz had perhaps the best game I have seen him play before the injury, and Foles brought the Eagles from behind. The defense stepped up in the fourth quarter with a big turnover and a key stop.
Just think back to August. What did you think the Eagles would finish? Could you have imagined they’d be 11-2 after 13 games and already have the NFC East title? It’s going to be hard to beat the best teams in the playoffs without Wentz, but that’ll be a conversation for January. It’s Dec. 11, and the Eagles are going to the playoffs.
What you need to know about the Eagles
- The Eagles clinched a playoff bid, but they lost their quarterback. Mike Sielski says that means they’re not a serious Super Bowl contender. Jeff McLane writes that a Wentz injury was bound to happen.
- With Wentz out, the Eagles turned to Nick Foles. Bob Ford writes about Foles’ redemption over the Rams. Before Foles entered the game, Wentz played four downs after being injured and teammates didn’t know he was hurt, Les Bowen writes.
- The key defensive play in the win was Chris Long’s strip sack, as Paul Domowitch explained.
- Stefen Wisniewski’s injury forced the Eagles to make a change at left guard, plus other information in this notebook.
- Who’s up and who’s down? McLane tells you. Domo gives his report card.
- Zach Ertz remains in the concussion protocol and missed Sunday’s game.
- The Philadelphia Orchestra performed the Eagles’ fight song, Peter Dobrin writes.
- If you missed it on Sunday, McLane had a good story catching up with Connor Barwin.
3 Questions With | Tight end Trey Burton
Zach Berman: What’s this moment like, clinching the NFC East after missing out on the playoffs during your first three seasons?
Trey Burton: “It’s special, man. It’s something that I’ve dreamed of. And it’s cool because it’s just the beginning of what we want to do.”
Zach Berman: You had two touchdowns in Zach Ertz’s place on Sunday. What did you think of your performance?
Trey Burton: “I just did what they asked me to do. I can’t really say much more than that. Obviously, I’d love to see Zach play. … Zach’s one of my best friend as well. So it’s tough for him. It’s tough for me to see him not play. But he’ll be back next week, and we’ve just to keep it rolling.”
Zach Berman: How would you describe the locker room after the game?
Trey Burton: “Happy, excited. But like I said, it’s just the beginning. We’re looking forward to what’s going to happen next. … We’re happy we won. But honestly, it’s just the beginning.”
Elsewhere in the NFL
- The Eagles play the Giants next week. New York lost to Dallas in Steve Spagnuolo’s first game as interim head coach. [New York Daily News]
- Another loss for Washington, which fell to 5-8 against the Los Angeles Chargers. [Washington Post]
- The Cowboys went ahead of the Giants in the fourth quarter and maintained their playoff hopes. [Fort Worth Star-Telegram]
- In Los Angeles, the Rams couldn’t respond to the big stage like the Eagles did. [Los Angeles Times]
- The Vikings’ winning streak was finally snapped against Carolina. [Pioneer-Press]
From the mailbag
With a Foles start seeming likely, who are you expecting the Eagles to go to for backup? (Trey Burton was our 3rd string QB today, so I'm guessing we'll find another)
— A Kobe Bryant Christmas (@play_on_sunday) December 11, 2017
The backup would be Nate Sudfeld. You might be wondering, “Who is Nate Sudfeld?” He’s a 2016 sixth-round pick by the Washington Redskins out of Indiana. Washington cut him before Week 1 this season, and the Eagles signed him to their practice squad. They promoted him in November when he received interest elsewhere. The Eagles have carried three quarterbacks since, although Sudfeld hasn’t been active for games. He’ll likely be the backup quarterback if Carson Wentz is out for the season and would step in if something happened to Nick Foles. “We brought Nate in here for that reason, obviously,” coach Doug Pederson said about whether Sudfeld would be the backup. “We’ll evaluate that, but we’re comfortable with the guys we have.”
Ajayi needs 20 touches a game, Blount 10 and clement 5? Does that sound right? Foles throws 25 to 30 balls?
— Patrick Maloney (@PatrickMaloney4) December 11, 2017
I’m with you on Jay Ajayi, Patrick. He’s the best running back on the team and as much as they like the committee, they should treat Ajayi like the talent he is. He had 15 carries for 78 yards on Sunday and is averaging 7 yards per carry since coming to the Eagles. Every game is different, and Foles must pass if the Eagles are coming from behind. But the Eagles’ running game has been working this season, and that should be a point of emphasis now — especially in December and January at home.
How concerned should we be about the defense? Back to back weeks where they were more prone to give up big plays and touchdowns in the red zone.
— Ryan K (@Roadkill823) December 11, 2017
You shouldn’t be too concerned. It was bound to happen against better quarterbacks and better offenses. They had a stretch of games against struggling offenses when the defense dominated. I don’t think the Eagles can live giving up the big plays they have the past few weeks, but you’ll see fewer against the Giants next week. The question is what happens in the playoffs against better offenses? That could determine the season. The pass rush is fine — the coverage needs to be better, and the key is tackling on the back end. That was a strength earlier in the season. There were breakdowns Sunday. They need too clean it up for January.