Remember when Carson Wentz was the NFL’s do-no-wrong rookie quarterback and the Philadelphia Eagles were among the league’s most surprising success stories?
That was so last month.
The early-season magic has run out. The league, perhaps, has adjusted, and now it’s up to Wentz and the Eagles, suddenly minus a key member of the offensive line, to adjust right back. A 3-0 start has given way to two straight defeats, the second of which came by a 27-20 score to the Washington Redskins on Sunday at FedEx Field.
“It’s football,” Wentz said. “There’s gonna be losses. No one likes to lose. But it’s one of those things where you’ve got to learn from it. It’s all about how you react and how you respond to losses. Obviously we didn’t come out here and perform the way we wanted to. But we’re gonna get back to the drawing board. The season’s not over. It’s a long season. We’re not losing hope. We’re not losing any of that edge that we bring on Sundays. I still like this team.”
Wentz, the No. 2 overall selection in this year’s NFL draft, became the Eagles’ starter when they traded Sam Bradford eight days before the season. His transition from North Dakota State to the NFL was seamless, as he led the Eagles to victories over the Cleveland Browns, Chicago Bears and Pittsburgh Steelers to open the season.
But everyone should have known even then that there would be some ups and downs, some steps forward and backward, for Wentz. There always are for first-year quarterbacks.
“He’s still a rookie,” Eagles Coach Doug Pederson said. “But he’s our guy. … He’s such a competitor that these things bother him.”
And does it bother Pederson?
“Obviously when you lose, it bothers me, too,” he said. “I’ve got to look at myself in the mirror, too, and make sure that I’m helping the guys on offense and putting them into positions to be successful.”
It certainly didn’t help the Eagles that they were playing Sunday without suspended right tackle Lane Johnson. Rookie right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai struggled mightily, and the Redskins exploited him repeatedly on their way to sacking Wentz five times.
Pederson said he never considered making an in-game switch along the offensive line and stressed that he believes it’s his responsibility to find ways to put his players in situations in which they can thrive. But the pressure appeared to have an effect on Wentz’s production. He completed 11 of 22 passes for 179 yards, without a touchdown pass or an interception.
“I think a little bit has to do with, number one, there’s more film out there for teams to take a look at you,” Pederson said. “It comes down to our execution. Again, this goes back to I’ve got to make sure that we’re not doing too much offensively. … I want our guys to play fast. That starts with me, and I’ll go back and look at it.”
Wentz was not making any excuses for himselfL not about the blocking that he received and not about the approaches taken by the opposing defenses in the Eagles’ post-bye losses at Detroit and Washington.
“It’s hard to say,” he said. “It’s really hard to say. I’m gonna have to go back and watch the tape and see how I feel about that thing, about that stuff. But obviously any time you put tape out there — a new rookie quarterback, new head coach — they’re gonna start to get a feel for how you like to play some of those things. We’ve got to always be careful about that.”
The Eagles did not produce a touchdown on offense against the Redskins. They scored second-quarter touchdowns on a kickoff return by Wendell Smallwood and an interception return by Malcolm Jenkins. The offense failed to do its part.
“I think it was just tough for us to kind of get in that groove today,” Wentz said. “I didn’t feel like we were in sync very well, especially in the first half. The flow of the game was weird. We had the three straight defensive drives there with the kick return and the pick-six. So we never really got in a rhythm offensively.”
And Wentz accepted the responsibility.
“I’ve got to be better, especially late in the game,” he said. “Any time an offense has a chance to win at the end of the game and you come up short, it’s frustrating. I put that on myself. We’ve got to get better. It’s one of those things I’ve got to go back and watch the tape and really critique, and we’ll be back. We’ll be better.”