For the first time this season, Eagles coach Doug Pederson held his day-after-game news conference without needing to answer who will start at quarterback. Carson Wentz made his season debut in the Eagles' 20-16 win over the Indianapolis Colts, and now the Eagles have found a modicum of normalcy. Wentz is the starter, the team is winning, and the discussion can shift from whether Wentz is cleared for contact to how he performed amid the contact.
Wentz went 25 of 37 for 255 yards. He threw one touchdown pass and committed two turnovers – an interception and a fumble – in the Eagles' territory. He was sacked five times and hit seven times. It was a fine performance, albeit not one that would be sent to MVP voters. His 84.9 passer rating was lower than all but two of his starts last season, yet it was enough to win and included plays that showed Wentz in MVP form.
"Was it a perfect game? No," Pederson said Monday. "There were some flaws and things we can coach and he can get better at. I think there was really not a big drop in what maybe people had expected. But at the same time, it's about what we expected. Now we just go up from here. It was a great game for him to play in obviously, but I think his time on the sideline, big picture, definitely helps and it helps moving forward."
Wentz and the Eagles coaches emphasize situational football. It was where Wentz showed the most improvement in 2017. On third downs Sunday, Wentz went 5-for-9 with four completions for first downs and he also ran for a first down. He threw a red-zone touchdown pass, but the Eagles went just 2-for-4 on red-zone trips.
"He brings such a competitive impact to our offense and a toughness and things you want to see," Pederson said. "The third-down scramble for the first down obviously are great plays; a third-and-9 scramble to Nelson [Agholor] are great plays. Those are things that we know he can do. And then at the same time, we just want to make sure that we're coaching him properly and he's seeing things properly to maintain."
Although Wentz had 10 rushing yards, he played a part in the Eagles' totaling 152 rushing yards and 4.3 yards per carry. The Eagles give Wentz responsibility at the line of scrimmage, and he can adjust plays if there's a better run available. Pederson said Wentz did a good job checking into run plays.
"The running game was huge," Wentz said after the game. "We had a lot of no-huddle kind of checks at the line based on what we were getting coverage-wise. They were playing a lot of soft zone coverage, so the running game helped us a lot in the passing game."
The blemishes on Wentz's performance were the two turnovers in the third quarter. He threw an interception on a first down at the Eagles' 25-yard line. He was strip-sacked on a third down at the Eagles' 19-yard line. The defense rescued the Eagles by keeping the Colts to six combined points off turnovers despite favorable field position, but those were areas that Wentz can fix.
"On the first one I just eyed up Zach [Ertz]," Wentz said. "Just stared him down. Can't do that. Brought the defender right there. Just a poor decision." On the strip-sack, he said he was getting ready to throw when his arm was hit by 6-foot-8 defensive tackle Margus Hunt and the ball came loose. "So try to learn from it and move on," he said.
Wentz gave credit to the Colts defense, especially for the interception. He didn't think the turnovers were the result of rust – he chalked it up more to decision-making – and committed to "clean up those things." The Colts applied pressure on Wentz throughout the day. Pederson said the sacks were a combination of offensive linemen getting beat, Wentz holding the ball too long, and wide receivers not getting open.
Considering Wentz's past nine months, these were welcome discussion points after the game. There was no need for Pederson to offer any updates on Wentz's health; just Wentz's performance. Wentz didn't look like a quarterback who was injured. He didn't view a nice third-down scramble as noteworthy. Just normal.
"I obviously made the guy miss in the pocket, saw the first-down marker and dove for it," Wentz said. "Pretty standard for me."
The first start is now behind him. He can find a rhythm with another week taking the full allotment of practice work. He'll soon get his injured skill players back in the lineup. And he can start preparing for the Tennessee Titans without any discussion about his knee or making his anticipated debut, but rather in the role he cherishes: as the franchise quarterback leading the team.