On the surface of Sunday’s matchup between the Eagles and the Kansas City Chiefs – and a good bit below the surface, as well – there isn’t much to inspire confidence that the Eagles can come away from the game with an uplifting win over former coach Andy Reid.
The Chiefs were 12-4 last season and opened the schedule this year with an impressive road win over the New England Patriots in the NFL’s debut game. That Thursday victory gave Reid an extra three days to prepare, which is always bad news for an opponent, and perhaps more so for one he knows so well already.
It’s a tough spot for a team that is still finding itself, and needed four takeaways and a good dash of luck to put away a mediocre Washington team in its opening game. Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City won’t be nearly as inviting as FedEx Field, and the wall of noise that rushes from the red sea of the stands has flummoxed even the best of visitors. For the Eagles, who were 1-7 on the road in 2016, the ability to play through that kind of adversity hasn’t been proven yet.
So, what will it take for the Eagles to win the game? It could very possibly require something that everyone hopes will happen sooner or later, something that everyone within the organization expects to happen sooner or later, and something that the current plan for the franchise needs to happen sooner or later. Preferably sooner.
Carson Wentz has to go out and win the football game.
Sure, it’s a team game, and the clichés are well-worn about each man having to do his job. That’s all true. But the quarterback literally has the game in his hands and his decisions and his actions can determine, at least on offense, whether those jobs get done.
As you watch Wentz on the practice field and in the locker room, it is obvious that he carries himself like that guy, the one around whom his teammates can rally most of the time, and the one who can pick them up and carry them on those special days. That’s what Sunday has to be for the Eagles, and for Wentz. If it happens, it won’t be for the last time. If it doesn’t, the wait will continue for the first time.
It isn’t as if Wentz hasn’t had good football games during his short career. He has, including the Washington win. He completed 26 of 39 passes for 307 yards and threw two touchdown passes, including a 58-yarder to Nelson Agholor after escaping pressure and buying time on his own. He also threw an interception and missed badly on a number of throws, including two deep balls to Torrey Smith that could have taken the top off the game as well as the Washington defense.
During his rookie year, Wentz had other good games. His best might have been a 23-for-31 performance against Pittsburgh in which he had two touchdown passes, no interceptions, and a career-high 125.9 quarterback rating. That was really good, but it also came during a 31-point home victory, not a seat-of-the-pants hoisting up of the team under adverse circumstances.
He played an overall good game on the road in Detroit, but heaved up a fatal interception at the end. There was a well-managed but unspectacular win against Atlanta, and then the season devolved into too many pass attempts and too few receivers able to catch them.
As we stand here, awaiting Wentz’s 18th NFL start, he hasn’t yet had his signature game. There have been glimpses and teases and portraits of a franchise quarterback that lacked just a few brushstrokes. Everything is there to assemble, but everything has not come together on one magical day yet.
“The biggest thing we learned is that we can be a dynamic offense,” Wentz said after the opening win. “We still left plays on the field, and there are things I’ve got to clean up.”
If he can clean them up Sunday against the Chiefs, and leave nothing on the field but the mark of his true arrival, then the Eagles can win that football game. It doesn’t look so promising otherwise, but that is when greatness announces itself.
Everyone seems to know that Carson Wentz will do that one day. But which day? The wait has not consumed him as it has consumed others – far from it – but it does continue.