Eight plays after he watched Jason Peters, the anchor of his offensive line, ride into the tunnel on a cart with a right knee injury, Carson Wentz stepped out of the clutches of Washington defensive lineman Terrell McClain and into even bigger trouble.
Redskins linebacker Mason Foster grabbed Wentz around the waist. Another defender weighed him down from the other side. Wentz’s head and passing arm emerged from the scrum, long enough for him to fling the ball toward the end zone.
Somehow, Wentz saw rookie running back Corey Clement at the right sideline. And somehow Clement, who had caught exactly one previous NFL pass, timed his leap perfectly and got both feet down inbounds, in the end zone, the ball firmly grasped, Washington linebacker Zach Brown looking on in despair.
It was a 9-yard touchdown pass that gave the Eagles a 24-10 lead with five minutes and 17 seconds remaining in the third quarter of their eventual 34-24 NFC East victory, and it was a defining moment for the team’s second-year QB.
Doug Pederson called the pass “one of the best plays I’ve seen in a long, long time. Two young guys making that type of a play on this really big stage.”
Clement said he was the last option. Wentz said Clement was “kinda like No. 3 in the progression. Clement said he saw Wentz scrambling and thought “if he can stay alive, I’ve got to do my part and stay alive as well.” Clement had completed his route, but moved to get open when he saw Brown move toward the line of scrimmage, thinking Wentz would run.
“At that point, it just turns into make-a-play mode,” Wentz said. “He did his job. I just turned upfield and made a play.”
“Surprised me,” Clement said. “I didn’t think he saw me.”
“He made a great play,” Foster said. “He stepped up in the pocket — we were all in his face — but he threw it up there and [Clement] made a good play. You have to tip your hat to Wentz, he made a lot of big plays tonight, but that’s what he’s been doing all year.”
Wentz and his team had gotten off to a horrible start in a penalty-plagued game that saw key players from both teams more or less continuously shuffling off the field. The Birds entered the second quarter trailing, 3-0, their first deficit after 15 minutes since the second game of the season, which was their lone loss, at Kansas City. They took four penalties on their first three snaps, which ought to be a record, whether it is or not.
“Yeah, it was a sluggish start,” Pederson said. “We’ve had a lot of time off” since the Oct. 12 victory at Carolina. “We went backwards that first series.”
With 8:17 left in the second quarter, the Eagles punted on fourth and 7 and Wentz stood 2-for-7 for 24 yards, no touchdowns and an interception (it kind of served the purpose of a 54-yard punt, but it still counted as an interception). His passer rating? One point eight. Yes, that’s 1.8. Not a typo.
“We started off horrible,” tight end Zach Ertz said, after leading the Eagles with five catches for 89 yards and a touchdown. “Everything hit the fan.”
After the amazing TD pass to Clement, Wentz’s third of the game, he was 13 for 20 for 216, still the lone INT, and a 120 passer rating. After his next touchdown pass, a much more routine 10-yard end zone slant to Nelson Agholor, Wentz was 17 for 25 for 268 and a 126.3 passer rating. That time, by the way, Wentz changed the play at the line.
“It was a perfect call in the right situation,” Ertz said.
So, warming up the old abacus, that means that after the 2 for 7, and through the fourth TD pass, Wentz completed 15 of 18 for 244 yards, those four TDs – which gave him 11 in the last three games – and no interceptions. Oh, and he also ran eight times for 63 yards, and five first downs, including a 17-yard ramble up the gut after everyone in the stadium thought he’d been sacked.
At the risk of stating the obvious, THIS is what a franchise quarterback looks like. It’s unclear if Bobby Thomason was considered a franchise QB back in 1953, but he was the last Eagles QB to throw at least three TD passes in three successive games.
“He has an uncanny ability, when things break down, of still making big plays,” center Jason Kelce said. “Most quarterbacks, or players in general, when the play breaks down, it’s a wasted play. Numerous times that game, numerous times since he’s been here, something hasn’t gone right, the protection hasn’t been perfect, bad snap, whatever it is, it seems like he is able to maintain his poise and make a play downfield, or move to get some yards on the ground. He really bailed us out a lot tonight, bailed us out on that play.”
Kelce was asked if he’s at the point where he isn’t even surprised by what Wentz does. He said no, he is not at that point.
“On that play in particular, for sure [it was surprising]. We got edge pressure, didn’t really handle it right, gave up some leakage in the middle. And he steps left, throws off his back foot — it was a great play.”
Coming in – or midway through the second quarter, for that matter – it was easy to wonder if the MVP talk, the national hype, was getting a bit overblown for a gangly kid from North Dakota making his 23rd career start, even if he was the NFL’s top third-down passer, even if he was the youngest quarterback, at 24, to throw 13 touchdown passes and three or fewer interceptions in the first six games of a season since 1950.
But Wentz, regardless of his mechanics or whether he failed to see an open receiver on this play or that play, has never shrunk from the spotlight. He has never looked panicky, or rattled. And he did not Monday night, even as some of his team’s most important building blocks crumbled around him.
“He studies and prepares like I’ve never seen before in a quarterback,” Pederson said. “To be this young and to hang in there and take shot after shot, is just amazing to me. A lot of guys would probably duck and run, or throw the ball away. That’s just not in him. That’s not his demeanor. He’s going to continue to shoot the ball down the field. You see his mental and physical toughness. It’s fun to watch when it’s clicking like that and he’s playing that well.”
Starting Tuesday, it will be time to talk about how losing Peters and middle linebacker Jordan Hicks (ankle) on the same evening might change this season’s outlook, for the team with the best record in the NFL, at 6-1. But for now, it’s really important to savor the moment that Carson Wentz went on national television and catapulted fans everywhere out of their recliners, gasping, pointing at the screen, texting their friends as they waited for replays.
You will see that TD pass to Clement more than a few times this week. And long after that.
“He’s doing a great job,” Ertz said. “He’s leading our team. He’s the face of the franchise, the face of the city right now. It’s an exciting time in Philadelphia.
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