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After ‘wild ride’ in Philly, Carson Wentz prepares for his former team

Carson Wentz walks off the field after failing to convert on third down in a Week 2 loss to the Detroit Lions. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Carson Wentz said his time in Philadelphia was “a wild ride” and that Sunday, when the Washington Commanders host the Eagles for their first divisional matchup this year, emotions will be mixed.

The game also will be the first time Wentz has faced his former team. After his complicated tenure in Philadelphia and the trade that brought him to one of its division rivals this year, the uniqueness of the matchup can’t be overstated.

In 2016, the Eagles traded up in the draft to select Wentz at No. 2. A year later, he was one of the NFL’s finest quarterbacks, an MVP contender leading his team to a championship before injuries cut his season short and his backup, Nick Foles, was named Super Bowl LII MVP.

Injuries and reports of discord between Wentz and Eagles coaches and teammates marred the quarterback’s final three years in Philadelphia and led to what Wentz called a “bittersweet” ending in 2020. The Eagles traded Wentz to the Colts in what was then believed to be a mutually beneficial move — until it wasn’t. One year in Indianapolis ended similarly, and he was on the move to Washington.

Now fully entrenched with the Commanders, Wentz says he looks back on his time in Philadelphia with gratitude and cherishes his years there.

“[I have] a lot of really good memories from my time there, I’m not going to lie,” he said Wednesday. “A lot of great friends, a lot of great relationships that I made. So, I definitely will have some mixed emotions in terms of those things. But nothing crazy jumps out other than my time there was a whirlwind. It was wild. The NFL is a whirlwind, but I’m grateful to still be playing, and I’m excited for this one.”

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Since he arrived in Washington, Wentz has been peppered with questions about his past and how his stops in Philadelphia and Indianapolis ended. He reiterated Wednesday that he learned a lot from his circumstances and has grown as a person.

The NFL has taught him a few things, too.

“It was definitely a wild ride in many, many ways,” Wentz said. “… But it definitely does catch you off guard. Things change, and you have to learn to grow up and change and adapt. And at the end of the day, I’m thankful for it. I’m thankful for the changes that life has brought, and I’ve grown a lot from it.

“There are always things I look back on and [think], man, I could have been better here. I could have been better as a person, as a teammate. [There are] lots of things that you do take for granted,” he said. “And so I think I definitely thank God for the experiences I’ve had even though sometimes they’re dark or sometimes they’re not how I envisioned them to be. But I think it’s allowed me to grow as a person, and I’m thankful for that.”

In 2020, when the coronavirus prompted the NFL to shut down training camps and prohibit fans from attending most games, Wentz was the Eagles’ starter for 12 games before he was benched in favor of Jalen Hurts, then a rookie out of Oklahoma who has blossomed into the league leader in rushing yards by a quarterback (147) this season.

Hurts, talking to Philadelphia media Wednesday, said he and Wentz have “a mutual respect.” He praised Wentz for his on-field ability during their tumultuous season together but stopped short of acknowledging any sort of continued relationship.

“I just saw he has a great arm, he’s a big guy, hard to tackle, and he just makes kind of crazy plays in the pocket, so I definitely took notice of that when I was a rookie,” Hurts said. “And he still does that now, kind of ducking and dodging and weaving and doing those things.”

When asked about the dynamic in the quarterbacks room that year, Hurts interrupted the question to say, “I’m focused on the now.”

The quarterbacks’ reunion Sunday could be awkward. But circumstances have changed, Wentz acknowledged. The Eagles have a new staff, led by Coach Nick Sirianni. They have a revamped team, with the notable additions of wide receiver A.J. Brown and rookie defensive tackle Jordan Davis.

And they’re 2-0, averaging the most total yards (470.2) of any team in the league.

“It’s a different offense. It’s a different kind of everything,” Wentz said. “… I know our defense will be up for the task of stopping [Hurts] and that explosive offense that they have there.”

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The Eagles have the advantage of owning five years’ worth of information about and familiarity with Wentz to help them prepare for Sunday. They also boast a defense that picked off Kirk Cousins three times to help seal a win Monday night over the Minnesota Vikings.

A division victory could change the trajectory of either team. But with Wentz in burgundy instead of green, the matchup has personal ties that could ensure the wild ride carries on.

“I’m excited for it,” Wentz said. “But … you try not to make the game bigger than it needs to be. Every week is a big week. It’s hard to win in this league. And so I know once the first kickoff goes, it’ll be football again.”