McLane: Wentz makes strides, even in loss

There were a lot of words written and spoken about Carson Wentz's mechanics this past week. Even his head coach had said that the Eagles quarterback's sailing passes were because of flawed mechanics. Surely, he listened and made some changes to his delivery.

Right?

"Nothing at all," Wentz said moments after he answered 16 questions during a news conference, none of them about his mechanics.

Wentz had just fallen short, yet again, of leading the Eagles to a late comeback victory, but this loss felt different than the others. In each of his four previous opportunities, he had thrown an interception, or taken sacks after the holding the ball too long, or missed an open receiver. But Wentz did almost everything he could before the Eagles lost to the Redskins, 27-22, on Sunday.

Down to their fourth-string right tackle, with only one healthy running back, and without one of three tight ends, the Eagles drove 61 yards to the Washington 14 with 21 seconds to play. Wentz didn't make a mistake on the first nine plays. He completed 5 of 9 passes, threw two balls away and had two borderline catchable passes fall incomplete.

But on second down, Ryan Kerrigan turned the corner on Matt Tobin and pummeled Wentz, who was looking at his first read to his left. The ball popped out, the Redskins recovered, and the Eagles, after getting handily beaten in their three previous games, lost as they had earlier in the season.

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There aren't any moral victories in the NFL, but if the Eagles' 2016 season is ultimately about the future and a rookie quarterback - and it most certainly is now - then Sunday was another positive step in that direction.

"It's tough," Wentz said. "In games like this you just think of those couple plays, had they gone differently the outcome could be different. We have had a lot of games like that this season."

Had Wentz not thrown an early interception - a "miscommunication" with tight end Zach Ertz, he called it - who knows what the outcome might have been? But what if Jordan Matthews had dragged both feet inbounds on the perfectly placed pass that came two plays before the pick?

Those are win-loss questions, and at some point Wentz will be judged accordingly. But now is not the time, not when he's still only 13 games into his career, not when he lacks a competent troupe of skill-position players, not when his offensive line is in tatters.

"The reality is you've got a rookie quarterback that's able to do what he's done, especially in pressure situations, makes me optimistic," Matthews said. "But you still want to capitalize and win those."

Indeed. And the fact that Wentz once again couldn't put the Eagles over the top should give pause to anyone who claims he's the savior. Does it mean that he won't become elite? Hardly. He clearly has the tools and will be the Eagles' quarterback for a long time, barring unforeseen events.

But either way, there isn't enough proof, however limitless the unknown may be.

"Carson has a lot of upside," tackle Jason Peters said. "I feel like if we get the right pieces in here to help him a bit - not saying we don't have them - but we don't have the firepower we normally have every year. . . . I would definitely come back to try protect his blindside again."

It's been tough protecting his front side. Lane Johnson's 10-game suspension has had a fateful domino effect on the season. First, there was rookie Halapoulivaati Vaitai's baptism by Kerrigan in October. Then there was Allen Barbre's eventual slide the last several weeks. And, finally, after Barbre left with a hamstring injury, there was Tobin, gamely trying to impede the Redskins linebacker a play after Chris Baker rolled on his knee.

"I didn't make the play," Tobin said, refusing to use his injury as an excuse. "He did."

The offensive line was also without right guard Brandon Brooks, who has missed two of the last three games with an illness. Wentz has taken a beating as a result. In the last four games, he has been sacked 11 times (four on Sunday) and hit 36 times (10 on Sunday).

"He's tough as nails," Matthews said. "He's the guy and I know everybody in here wants him to be the guy and they look at him like that. I don't want to take it for granted that he's a tough quarterback. Those are hard hits he's taking."

Forget about mechanics. There's nothing scientific about being a gamer. A quarterback who gets knocked down but keeps getting back up can galvanize a team. A quarterback who completes passes with defenders wrapped around his legs - as Kerrigan was on Wentz - can motivate teammates.

"I thought Carson [had] probably his best game of the year, quite honestly," Pederson said, "just the way he hung in there, battled the adversity."

Every week, Pederson says he's got to take more of the burden off Wentz's shoulders. And every game, the numbers end up unbalanced. For the most part, Pederson hasn't been negligent. The Eagles have either trailed, or in Sunday's case, were light at running back.

But even with the increased load, it seems that nothing has fazed the quarterback. He's never lost this much in his career.

"I am just a confident, optimistic person," Wentz said.

His first words when the Eagles huddled up to start their final drive, were, "All right, guys, let's go march right down the field," according to Matthews.

"And it was like clockwork," Matthews continued. "Every single ball is on you. I think every one hit me in between the '8' and the '1.' "

But Wentz never got a chance to throw into the end zone.

"When you lose at the end like that, especially when you're on the field as an offense," Wentz said, "it's frustrating."

Mechanics weren't the problem.

jmclane@phillynews.com

@Jeff_McLane