Hayes: Eagles' Wentz adds to burgeoning legend with tough-guy play

HE'S GOT GUTS.

He's got chutzpah.

He's got brass-plated body parts, as cold as the ice in his veins.

He also got a win, 24-19, and another anecdote for the grandkids.

It might be the second day of winter in the Northeast, but this is a season of renewal in South Philadelphia. Joel Embiid, the breathtaking Sixers center, can do no wrong, from launching three-pointers to dictating his running mates. Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny are big parts of a scorching Flyers club. Still, none of them holds a candle to the national horsepower of the Wentz Wagon.

That's why the NFL and the Eagles held their well-litigated, concussion-addled breaths when franchise quarterback Carson Wentz jogged back onto the field in the fourth quarter. Wentz, North Dakota strong and Philly tough, is the Eagles' entrant in current Best Young Quarterback sweepstakes.

Thursday night, his legend grew.

Wentz shook off a hellacious hit and led a ramshackle Eagles team in a five-game skid to a 24-19 win over the Giants, a 10-win team playing for the playoffs. He went 13-for-24 for 152 yards, a touchdown and an interception, as well as four runs for 27 yards, but that tells very little of the bigger story.

He returned from a third-quarter body slam and led the game-clinching drive in the fourth.

"It sends a great message to the whole locker room: There's your leader," coach Doug Pederson said. "Doing what he enjoys doing. Just playing ball."

Really, that's what this is about. This Eagles season has been so much about soft play and performance anxiety and a PED suspension. For Carson Wentz, it's always been about just playing ball.

"Our team needs that from the guy who is the leader on this team," said veteran tight end Brent Celek, perhaps the toughest Eagle of the modern era. "We, as teammates, appreciate that. As soon as we saw him come out, we said, 'Let's go!' "

It looked as if Wentz's season was done at 10:28 p.m. Thursday. Giants defensive end Olivier Vernon tossed Wentz to the ground with an overly aggressive finish of a tackle for which Vernon was penalized. He drove Wentz's left shoulder into the chilled turf at Lincoln Financial Field. A moment later, Wentz's helmeted head hit the turf, too, and, well, that was that. Right?

When Wentz got up he looked as if he was full-blown Bernard Hopkins, the gallant Philly champion who ended his career Saturday when he was knocked out of the ring and into orbit. The kid looked out on his feet.

Like Hopkins, Wentz needed help to getting up. Like Hopkins, Wentz could hardly stand. Like Hopkins, Wentz began walking the wrong way.

Unlike Hopkins, Wentz is at the beginning of a wondrously promising career. He is the Franchise Player on a six-win team who had played nearly 14 3/4 NFL football games.

In those games, he showed a mastery of play-action. He demonstrated patience. He displayed maturity. He proved difficult to tackle and adept at feeling pressure and fast enough to pick up yards on his own. He led two scoring drives Sunday at Baltimore that came one PAT shy of a 10-point, fourth-quarter comeback (the Eagles' two-point conversion failed). His deep passes need work, but, then, so do most rookies'.

So, dinged on the dome, he was done . . . right?

"I was taken to the ground pretty hard. I was a little dizzy. Got my bell rung a little bit," Wentz explained.

Really, with that much good work in the bank, it seemed a fait accompli that, when Wentz left the field, then jogged into the locker room, he would not come back for this game. He hadn't had a concussion since high school, but still, the "concussion protocol" seemed a formality to the moment's finality. The next time he would be seen, he would be wearing a baseball cap and be cheering on Chase Daniel, inch-for-inch the most outrageously overpaid backup quarterback in NFL history.

Sure enough, Wentz jogged back out 10 minutes later. He watched the defense make four plays, the last an interception by Malcolm Jenkins.

Then, incredibly, Wentz shed his cap, put on his helmet and rejoined the fray; rejoined it full-bore, hip-deep and headfirst.

"When I got to the bench and I was feeling good," Wentz said.

Still: Why return?

"I was cleared."

Extremely cleared. He said he was dizzy for less than a minute. He certainly seemed clear-headed when he returned.

His first play: a play-action pass, but the offensive line collapsed. No problem. Wentz twisted out of a sack and casually threw the ball away.

Two plays later, the pocket evaporated again, and this time Wentz dipped under two tacklers, scrambled up the middle and gained 11 yards.

Two plays after that, the Eagles ran a reverse with Wentz as the lead blocker for Nelson Agholor. Wentz did, in fact, block Eli Apple . . . and knocked him out of the game. Wentz also clipped Jason Peters' feet with his head, to no ill effect, except he appeared to injure Peters' ankle on the play.

To review:

The quarterback, for whose protection the rule book has been rewritten, led with his head and took out two players.

Wentz saw a guy and he blocked him. He was just playing ball.

"If I'm out there, and there's somebody in front, I'm going to block him," Wentz said.

Of course he is.

Because this is the stuff of legend.


hayesm@phillynews.com

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