Updated: Wednesday, January 3, 2018, 8:28 AM
You think you’re a fan of Carson Wentz? Imagine how his teammates feel. They got to watch one of the most accomplished seasons by an Eagles quarterback up close, either playing alongside him or from the sidelines. It was a shared experience, of course, because that’s what it means to play as a team. But for many of the players, they also watched Wentz’s 2017 simply as fans of greatness.
Consider rookie defensive tackle Elijah Qualls, who did a lot of watching in his first year:
“As soon as I go home and talk to friends, family, whatever, that’s the first thing I tell them, like, ‘Yo, you’re all watching this kid on TV, but watching him in person is something insane,’” Qualls said. “Every single time I’m on the sideline, I’ll be still talking about that play ten plays later. I don’t care what the hell is going on.
“I gained so much respect for him once I’ve been able to really watch him play. He legitimately had a shot at winning the MVP and he deserved it because he was playing like it.”
Wentz’s season was cut short, of course, in Los Angeles last month. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee when he dove into the end zone against the Rams. Wentz’s fearlessness, his disregard for his own health, or his reckless – whatever you want to call it – led to many of his best plays. But it also contributed to his injury.
Asked for his favorite Wentz play, safety Malcolm Jenkins joked, “Any play that he slid.”
The Eagles’ postseason hopes are potentially crippled by the loss of Wentz, so the following list may be a painful reminder of what was lost at the Coliseum. But his year was special and more than just statistics and wins. You had to be there to describe it. Wentz is more than just the spectacular. He can make all the throws from the pocket, read defenses, and lead. But the plays that will stand the test of time are the incredible ones that all came at pivotal junctures. Six of the seven plays below came on third down and at least eight yards. The other was on fourth down. Each play was for either a touchdown or led to one.
Some of the players’ memories were already a little fuzzy. But their recollections (embellishments) are just part of The Legend of Carson. Here’s a recreation of Wentz’s best plays, as voted on by his teammates:
DEEP DIG VS. THE PANTHERS, OCT. 12 — (1 vote: Nate Sudfeld)
Third down and 16, Eagles led, 21-16, with 1 minute and 16 seconds left in the third quarter.
Wentz threw to Mack Hollins for 20 yards.
Sudfeld: There was a deep dagger dig [route]. A guy came free and Carson stepped up and hit [Hollins].
Sudfeld: That was filthy. A. There was no panic knowing that there was an unblocked guy. And B. The drill work we’ve done to prepare for that one was unreal because, literally, just to step up a few steps and know you’re about to get hit and fire it on the run is ridiculous.
Sudfeld: It was third down and a pivotal point in the game, which really kind of got us going.
The Eagles scored a touchdown three plays later and took a 28-16 lead. They eventually won, 28-23.
DODGING DEFENDERS VS. THE REDSKINS, SEPT. 10 — (4 votes: Fletcher Cox, Zach Ertz, Nick Foles, Stefen Wisniewski)
Third down and 12, no score, with 11:43 left in the first quarter.
Wentz threw to Nelson Agholor for a 58-yard touchdown.
Cox: It was like the first play of the season, and he came out and just threw a touchdown to Nellie.
Ertz: It’s the first one that comes to mind. He just eluded like 30 people.
Wisniewski: He made like four people miss.
The Eagles went on to 30-17 win.
SPIN MOVE VS. THE BEARS, NOV. 26 — (7 votes: Vinny Curry, Jordan Hicks, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Jason Kelce, Donnel Pumphrey, Isaac Seumalo, Caleb Sturgis)
Third down and 9, Eagles led, 7-0, with 13:25 left in the second quarter.
Wentz scrambled 16 yards for a first down.
Hicks: He had a free blitzer off the edge and there was a screen to the left and he just spun out.
Seumalo: They brought more than we had blocked.
Sturgis: They had him in.
Seumalo: Everything was bad, but he did his magic.
Sturgis: It showed his athleticism more than anything.
Hicks: It just shows how natural of an instinct he has for making plays. He’s got a screen called. They got the perfect play called to stop the screen. He sees it. I don’t even think he knows he’s got a free runner. It’s just a feel. It’s the ‘X’ factor that he brings.
The Eagles scored a touchdown three plays later to take a 14-0 lead. They eventually won, 31-3.
ACROSS-THE-BODY TOUCHDOWN PASS VS. THE REDSKINS, OCT. 23 — (8 votes, Trey Burton, Corey Clement, Mack Hollins, Najee Goode, Mychal Kendricks, Patrick Robinson, Wendell Smallwood, Joe Walker)
Third down and 9, Eagles led, 17-10, with 9:49 left in the second quarter. Eight plays earlier, they had lost left tackle Jason Peters to a season-ending knee injury.
Kendricks: It was on Monday night. The whole country watching.
Robinson: He was scrambling, but he threw it with so much accuracy. It was very incredible, especially for a young quarterback to have that type of accuracy running with someone in your face.
Goode: I don’t know how the hell he threw that damn ball, but he did before he got smacked by somebody. And the throw was perfect and Corey had a dude on him. Amazing.
Clement: That’s not going away for a while because the legacy he’s already created is going to last as the years go on. It’s pretty awesome to be a part of that.
Robinson: I thought it was one of the greatest plays I’ve seen all year.
Wentz’s 9-yard touchdown pass to Clement gave the Eagles a 24-10 lead. They would go on to win, 34-24.
TOUCHDOWN PASS WITH TORN ACL VS. THE RAMS, DEC. 10 — (8 votes: Nelson Agholor, Beau Allen, Brandon Brooks, Dannell Ellerbe, Nate Gerry, Chris Long, Chris Maragos, Rodney McLeod)
With the Eagles trailing, 28-24, on first down at the 2-yard line with 4:01 left in the third quarter, Wentz scrambled. He dove over the goal line, but was sandwiched by two defenders.
Agholor: You knew he was hurt.
Agholor: I looked at his face when he was out there and he was in pain.
Gerry: That takes a lot of balls to get up after that.
The touchdown run was brought back by an Eagles holding penalty. Wentz stayed in the game.
Maragos: To do that after that for what, three-four plays – I have nothing but respect for that.
Two shotgun handoffs and an incomplete pass later, the Eagles faced fourth down at the 2 with 2:28 left in the third.
Agholor: He lined up in the gun and called the play.
Agholor: Bounce, bounce, bounce. Couldn’t scramble like normal, but he still surveyed the field.
Brooks: The throw he made without moving his feet between the corner and the safety – the window was small. Maybe only Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers can also make that throw.
Long: I don’t know if he felt it. He had to know something was wrong, but just the instinct to not pull yourself out and be able to stand in there and deliver.
McLeod: I think that just shows his mentality and his character. Ultimate warrior, fighter. The definition of Carson Wentz right there.
It was the last play of Wentz’s season. The Eagles went on to win, 43-35, with Nick Foles at quarterback.
FALLING HEAVE VS. SEAHAWKS, DEC. 3 — (10 votes: Jay Ajayi, Rasul Douglas, Jake Elliott, Shelton Gibson, Chance Warmack, Lane Johnson, Marcus Johnson, Elijah Qualls, Torrey Smith, Darren Sproles)
Third down and 13, Eagles trailed, 17-3, on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Wentz and Agholor hooked up for 51 yards.
Douglas: I was like, ‘How the hell did he make it, like falling down you can throw 60 yards?’
Gibson: He was down on like one knee.
Johnson: He Michael Jackson-leaned to the side. I’m talking a hard lean.
Warmack: I already knew he was special, but he’s like on a whole other level because regular dudes ain’t doing that. They’re just going to throw it out of bounds, or run out of bounds.
Elliott: I’ve never seen any arm talent like that, where he’s falling and there’s literally nothing underneath him and he throws the ball 50 yards sidearm.
Johnson: It was strictly arm strength. And I’m sitting here watching from the sidelines and I was in awe.
Smith: He showed everything that he had to be able to do that. He showed his strength because he had to brush off the d-linemen. And his arm strength. He kept his eyes downfield.
Qualls: It just didn’t make sense. If you told me somebody threw a 45-yard bomb – not just a bomb, but a dime, while being tackled and falling sideways? – I would be like I don’t know if that’s going to happen.
The Eagles eventually lost, 24-10.
SCRAMBLE FROM SCRUM VS. THE REDSKINS, OCT. 23 — (17 votes — Kenjon Barner, LeGarrette Blount, Nigel Bradham, Brent Celek, Ronald Darby, Brandon Graham, Corey Graham, Malcolm Jenkins, Tim Jernigan, Donnie Jones, Sidney Jones, Rick Lovato, Steven Means, Jalen Mills, Destiny Vaeao, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Jaylen Watkins)
Two drives after the Wentz-to-Clement touchdown, the Eagles were up, 24-17, with 14:55 left in the fourth. They faced a third and 8.
Wentz scrambled 17 yards for a first down.
Bradham: I call it “The Houdini Play.” You thought it was a sack, but it wasn’t.
Barner: The pocket collapsed literally on him.
Jernigan: The whole stadium thought the guy was down.
Watkins: I grabbed my helmet and was like, ‘[Expletive].’ And then next thing you know we look up and he’s taking off.
Brandon Graham: “I was like, ‘Dang, they got him – Oh!’
Donnie Jones: I was jogging out on the field and I was like, ‘Wait a minute.’
Jernigan: Next you know he just pops out of nowhere and he scrambles 30, 40 yards.
Vaitai: It was just bad. I was falling back and all of sudden I hear the crowd cheering.
Means: It looked like he was falling backwards and he caught his balance, leaned forward, got up out of there and ran.
Corey Graham: He had nowhere to go. There’s no way he could have gotten away from that. But somehow he ducked underneath.
Vaeao: It was a miracle.
Corey Graham: That exemplifies who he is as a quarterback. Somehow he just finds a way to get loose and make plays.
Lovato: That’s where I was like, ‘Holy cow, this kid is legit.’
Jernigan: He’s special. That dude is special. But I figured that out about him last year when I had a chance to play against him with the Ravens. He battled his butt off.
Watkins: You watch quarterbacks every week and someone brushes by them and they go down — I’m trying to protect myself for my team. He has no thought in his mind about his body. He’s just trying to win at all cost.
Declined to choose one play: Alshon Jeffery, Derek Barnett.
Passed because of short tenure with team: Will Beatty, Bryan Braman.
Unavailable: Jason Peters.