At times this season Carson Wentz seemed superhuman. But he is not, otherwise the quarterback wouldn’t have suffered a season-ending knee injury on Dec. 10. And he wouldn’t have had the natural reaction to watching his backup lead the Eagles to the Super Bowl.
“As humans, we all want to be the competitors that we are and be out there on the field,” Wentz said Friday during his first news conference since the injury. “Every time the offense runs out on the field on Sundays, it’s tough. It hits me a little bit. But then I’m in it because I love these guys and I’m a part of this team just as much as anybody else.
“I get involved in the game and then it all kind of goes away.”
But the sting may linger a little longer next week after the Eagles and Patriots kick off in Minneapolis. Wentz, after all, was supposed to be the one who led the Eagles back to the Super Bowl. For the first 13 games of the regular season, as his team compiled the NFL’s best record, he was arguably the league’s most valuable player.
Capping his second season with a championship and delivering the Eagles their first Lombardi Trophy was his destiny.
“As a competitor, I set out with this goal in mind to get here,” Wentz said. “To not only get here but to win this thing. Obviously, it looks different for me, but the team is still plugging along and I couldn’t be happier for them.”
Wentz has been one of Nick Foles’ biggest supporters. While his rehabilitation has limited some of his involvement in team and quarterback activities, Wentz has attended as many practices and meetings as possible. In the Eagles’ two playoff games, he was down on the field and assisted.
Foles has spoken about the advice Wentz has provided, just as he did for Wentz when the roles were reversed. They became fast friends off the field in less than a year. The Eagles consciously brought Foles back, in part, because they knew he would assimilate. Wentz could only return the favor.
“It’s absolutely human to wish that you were in there,” Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich said Tuesday. “But the whole key, it’s a very fine line. And that fine line to me is that you can still not just be happy for the team winning, but to be happy for Nick who is at your position, who could potentially be stealing another person’s thunder.
“But that’s the pretty cool thing, of all the great things that he’s done this year, [it] even more exemplifies the kind of leader that he is.”
Reich experienced something similar during his playing career, but as the backup. In 1990, he started in place of the injured Jim Kelly toward the end of the regular season and won enough games to help earn the Bills the No. 1 postseason seed. But he was back on the bench for the playoffs. Two years later, Reich started and won Buffalo’s first two playoff games before handing the reins back to Kelly.
The life of a backup isn’t for the faint-hearted. Foles’ career as a starter was seemingly over after the Rams released him in 2016. But after contemplating retirement, he took the Chiefs’ No. 2 job, returned to Philly in 2017, and is now one victory from living out every quarterback’s dream.
“I’m so happy for him and this team,” Wentz said as he stood in front of his locker stall at the NovaCare Complex, “but especially a guy like that going through everything he’s went through.”
Wentz has experienced injury before. He missed half of his senior season at North Dakota State with a broken wrist. But he returned for and won the NCAA Division I-AA championship game. This was different. When the initial diagnosis was confirmed – that he had torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee – Wentz knew that his season would be over.
“I had to fight those feelings of self-pity for that day,” he said. “But I got through that pretty quick. This team, my teammates, friends and family, the fans, and then my faith in the Lord is really what has gotten me through.”
Perspective also helped. Wentz is only 25. He has two years left on his rookie contract. No matter how Foles plays in the Super Bowl, no one logically believes that Wentz will lose his job. And the Eagles, with a franchise-caliber quarterback and a deep roster, are seemingly set for long-term sustainability.
“We have something special here without a doubt,” Wentz said. “That starts with the ownership on down. Coach [Doug] Pederson, ever since he got here, just establishing that culture. Coming in the same time with him – it’s just been cool to establish that together. I think … we’re wired for success for a long time.”
There is some concern that Wentz won’t have longevity because of his aggressive style of play. He said Friday that he won’t change. Of more pressing concern is his timetable for return. Wentz revealed that he also tore the lateral collateral ligament. He said his goal was to be ready for Week 1, but there are no guarantees.
“The timetable stuff – I wish I knew just as much as you guys wish you knew,” Wentz told reporters. “It’s just a fluid process.”
Wentz said that he would be along for the Super Bowl ride. All the Eagles’ injured players, including tackle Jason Peters, running back Darren Sproles, linebacker Jordan Hicks, and safety Chris Maragos, are expected to travel with the team and be at the game next Sunday.
Maragos, who won a Super Bowl with the Seahawks, acknowledged the conflicted feelings of not being able to perform on the grandest stage. But he said that the injured players have contributed, in part, by helping their replacements, and that in turn has made them feel integral.
“We know we’re a part of this, like Carson, and he’s the leader of our team,” Maragos said.
Wentz, meanwhile, said he never had to console his teammates after his injury. Safety Malcolm Jenkins addressed the issue immediately after it occurred in the visitors’ locker room at the Coliseum in Los Angeles.
“Guys were just, ‘Hey, next man up.’ That’s the mentality we’ve had all year long,” Wentz said. “No one flinched. No one blinked. I think the proof is in the pudding.”