The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Commanders put faith in Carson Wentz. Eventually, he has to reward them.

Carson Wentz and the ground got familiar with each other Sunday. (Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

Carson Wentz might best watch the gruesome film of his Washington Commanders’ worse-than-it-sounds 24-8 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles lying on his back. It is the position with which he is most familiar.

Nine?” Terry McLaurin said when relayed the number of times Wentz was sacked Sunday afternoon. “Yeah, that’s a tough day.”

Those full-throated chuckles emanating from FedEx Field’s lower bowl Sunday afternoon? They came from the mouths of all the Eagles fans who populated it. They could laugh about a result that has their team undefeated and looking like a contender in the NFC. But more than that, those green-clad fans could outright guffaw that their quarterback is the dynamic and dangerous Jalen Hurts and it once was Wentz, who occasionally holds the football so long, it’s as if he’s putting a baby to bed.

(Except, of course, on the occasions he drops the baby — which we will get to.)

Carson Wentz, sacked nine times, and Commanders flail to loss vs. Eagles

An NFL game can feel like a referendum on where a team or player stands, and the weight put on a single week is often unwarranted. But Sunday felt significant. It was an NFC East game, sure. More than that, it pitted the team that traded to get Wentz against one of the teams that traded to get rid of him. In a three-hour snapshot, there was a clear winner.

“Not good enough,” Wentz said. “Definitely not good enough.”

Give him this: He does not shrug off or dismiss criticism. Which is good because it’s coming.

Take Wentz’s final statistical line — 25 for 43 for 211 yards without a touchdown or an interception — and file it directly in the garbage can. It means nothing. The first eight times Wentz dropped back told the story of this game — and left Eagles fans in stitches. They went thusly: pass batted down, five-yard completion, sack to force a punt, sack on first down, sack on second down, 16-yard gain, sack to force a punt, sack to force a fumble that the Eagles recovered.

Related: At halftime, Philadelphia led 24-0. Also related: At halftime, the Eagles — the team that essentially replaced Wentz with Hurts in 2021 — had 276 net passing yards. The Commanders, because of six sacks of Wentz, had minus-16.

“Anytime there’s a number like that,” Wentz said, almost as if there are frequently numbers like that, “that isn’t on the O-line. That’s not all on the O-line. I’ve got to be better. I’ve got to get the ball out in those situations.”

The last time a Washington quarterback was sacked that many times: October 2011, when the immortal John Beck went down 10 times against Buffalo.

The season is, of course, not lost. “We’ve still got 14 games left,” Washington Coach Ron Rivera said. Yet there’s a lot swirling here around a character that Philadelphia (3-0) knows and Washington (1-2) is just learning. More than a few Eagles fans arrived Sunday with old Wentz jerseys; they had used duct tape to cover the “WEN” on the back and scrawled in “HUR” to make them read “HURTZ,” then applied the rest of the roll to change Wentz’s old No. 11 into Hurts’s No. 1.

There were pregame meetings between Wentz and his old mates. Throw in a pregame report from ESPN that the Commanders had initially pursued a trade for San Francisco’s Jimmy Garoppolo before ending up with Wentz, and the entire environment seemed teed up to rattle Washington’s new quarterback.

“It was a bull-crap report,” Rivera snapped afterward, clearly feeling the need to make Wentz seem wanted. “I didn’t talk to anybody about that. … I’m disappointed that came out. I didn’t talk to anybody about Jimmy Garoppolo.”

Nor, Rivera said, did he think about benching Wentz against his old team, even as he absorbed a beating. At halftime — by which time the game had been decided — Wentz had twice as many sacks (six) as completions (three). He had thrown for 24 yards. He had lost 40 on sacks.

“They got after us,” Wentz said, “and I did not play to my standards.”

What should those standards be? In Philadelphia, they have seen this movie. If Wentz has a clock in his head that tells him when he has held the ball too long, it’s constantly in need of a new battery. That contributed to the sacks, and the sacks will rightly be the focus. The Commanders played their first game of this season without starting center Chase Roullier, injured in last week’s loss at Detroit. The Eagles have a fearsome defensive front led by been-there-forever veterans Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox. There were many ingredients in this stew.

“They beat us,” McLaurin said — not to state the obvious but to make sure there was no quibbling about “a few plays here and there.”

But take this sequence from late in the first half. On first down, Wentz looked for wide receiver Curtis Samuel in the flat. Given where he threw the ball, he must have thought Samuel had a pair of stilts stuffed in his pads. On second down, Wentz tried to find running back J.D. McKissic — and he threw the ball not to where McKissic stood but to a spot he had vacated, way behind the target. And on third down, Wentz found rookie wideout Jahan Dotson. A modest gain of three yards felt like a victory.

That would recap one of Wentz’s best drives of the first two quarters. He did not absorb a sack, which he did repeatedly. He did not fumble, which he did twice.

“I got to protect the ball,” Wentz said. “Anytime the pocket’s collapsing around me and I’m trying to make a play, I’ve got to keep two hands on it.”

He clearly knows what to say. He doesn’t always do what he says.

Carson Wentz’s path from Philly to D.C. says a lot about the modern NFL

Whatever happened with Garoppolo, the Commanders made the move to trade draft picks to Indianapolis for Wentz just a year after the Eagles shipped him to the Colts. Rivera and others have gone out of their way to say they wanted him and they welcomed him. For a player who has been twice discarded, that matters.

But if the franchise is going to argue it has the quarterback around which it will build, it must demand more from him. That means more consistency from week to week and half to half and drive to drive. It also means eliminating the kinds of plays that, as a quarterback who made his 88th NFL start Sunday, Wentz should have minimized by now.

Sunday doesn’t have to be a referendum, because the season is just getting started. But it can’t be a recurrence every other week, either. The Commanders are asking Wentz to grow out of the kinds of mistakes that left his previous employers looking for new solutions. It’s on Wentz to reward their faith — which he can’t do when he’s holding on to the ball, crumpling to the ground.