Whenever it is that the story of the Carson Wentz era in Philadelphia is written, Sunday might be Chapter 1. The scene: a pale field, a low sky, a rookie dropping back through the penetrating cold. On the scoreboard: 21 seconds to go, five points to overcome. He's marched them 61 yards in a minute and a half. Fourteen remain. They are one throw, one scramble, one something away. This is why they drafted him, for his unique ability to make this kind of play.
Except, if he makes it, it doesn't make for much of a story. There is no quest to be had, no challenge to overcome. It does us no good for Chapter 1.
He doesn't make it. Not this time, at least. And therein lies our point of departure. It's not that he fails: It's that he never gets a chance to succeed. The kid never sees it coming. By the time he arrives at the top of his drop, his fate is secured. A Pro Bowl defensive end beats a fourth string right tackle off the snap. The No. 2 overall pick crashes to the turf. The ball bounces free. From his spot on the ground, all he can do is watch. For a couple of seconds, the football lingers on the turf, just out of reach.
And yet, this was one that everybody should circle. Save it to the DVR and store it away. They say there are no moral victories, and they are probably correct, but in a season where wins and losses are secondary to the means through which they are achieved, the legacy of Sunday's loss lies not in the penalties or injuries or turnovers, but in the mean game of quarterback the rookie signal-caller played.
Doug Pederson said it after the game, and he was correct. This was Wentz's best performance yet, and, considering the circumstances, it isn't really close. As he snapped his chin strap and jogged onto the field in the wake of a 25-yard touchdown run by Chris Thompson that gave the Redskins a 27-22 lead, the Eagles were playing without three of their four running backs, two of their top four pass-catchers, their No. 2 tight end, and three of their five Week 1 starters on the offensive line (along with their top backup). Yet they were in it to the end, with that final drive a microcosm:
A 16-yard completion to Jordan Matthews at the Eagles' 45-yard line, a 16-yard bullet to Trey Burton in tight coverage at the Redskins' 39-yard line, another strike to Matthews, this one for 12 yards and a first down at the 27 with 42 seconds remaining, on 3rd-and-10 a 13-yard completion to Zach Ertz at the 14. The previous three-plus quarters had featured much of the same, Wentz bobbing and weaving his way through the deteriorating situation up front, Lane Johnson suspended, Brandon Brooks scratched with an illness, Allen Barbre injured midgame. He finished with 32 completions in 46 attempts for 314 yards and a touchdown despite being sacked four times and pressured countless others.
"It's crazy watching him now to really understand that he's a rookie," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "All these situations he's been put in and performed at a really high level, I see that only getting better as the game slows down for him."
Coming off an abysmal outing in the Eagles' blowout loss to Cincinnati, Wentz came out firing: a third-down strike on a crossing route while on the run, a bootleg scramble for a first down, a beautiful deep ball to Nelson Agholor that resulted in a 44-yard defensive-pass interference penalty, another third-down conversion to Mattehws. All of this on the Eagles' first two drives.
"He shows me something every week," Jenkins said. "He's out there doing whatever he can to make plays, whether he's extending the play with his feet, whether he's diving, stepping out of sacks left and right. He's a competitor, man. He's been doing whatever he can within his ability to give us a chance to succeed. Today was no different."
You watch Wentz in games like this and you can't help but think that one day he'll look back and marvel at how easy the game seems. Dak Prescott might be winning the first-year battle, but the Eagles sure look like they're going to win the 10-year war: We might not know how Prescott would look if forced to play quarterback in a maelstrom like the one that engulfed Wentz against the Redskins, but it isn't too hard to project what Wentz would look like behind the Cowboys' offensive line. Give this guy time to drop five steps, give him a receiver who can go deep and keep his feet in bounds, give some semblance of a first-down running game, then see how that arm and those legs play.
"He came out and proved today why we drafted him," Pederson said.
The end has yet to be written. But the story is well under way.