The Philadelphia Eagles had just completed a first-half shutout with a touchdown catch on the final play when three Washington Commanders fans in Section 412 tossed the gold towels the team had handed out upon entry into the seats below and headed for the exits.
Amid a packed crowd of mostly green, the burgundy remnants were deflated. Any hope they came in with flew out with the wind as the Commanders collapsed in Sunday’s first half as they had a week earlier, ultimately losing to their NFC East rivals, 24-8, in Carson Wentz’s first game against his original team.
“It’s like we’re constipated,” left tackle Charles Leno Jr. said. “We can’t get s--- going.”
A major difference this time: There was no second-half rally as there had been in last week’s loss at Detroit. There was no last gasp — especially not from Wentz. The quarterback finished 25 for 43 for 211 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions for a 71.0 passer rating. He was sacked nine times, topping his career high of eight in the 2020 season opener at FedEx Field, when he was with the Eagles and the team he suited up for Sunday was known as the Washington Football Team.
Wentz’s showing was both baffling and concerning, and it raised questions about his confidence and emotions while facing his old team. He admitted it was “surreal” as he reconnected with some of his former teammates before kickoff, but he said it didn’t affect his play.
“Once the kickoff happened, it was football again,” Wentz said. “I think they just got our number today. ... I know the Eagles’ fans travel well, and they showed up and had a lot to cheer for today. We didn’t play our best ball, and I didn’t play my best ball.”
His replacement in Philadelphia played like the poised veteran in the matchup. Jalen Hurts completed 22 of 35 attempts for 340 passing yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 123.5 rating.
The skewed showing was a reminder of a matchup the Commanders (1-2) had been hoping to forget. In last week’s 36-27 loss at Detroit, Wentz was sacked four times in the first half as the offense struggled to create much of anything. Terry McLaurin didn’t have a target in that span, the defense allowed three plays of at least 23 yards, and the Commanders went into halftime down 22-0.
During Sunday’s first half, in front of a mostly pro-Eagles crowd, Wentz was sacked six times, fumbling once. McLaurin again was never targeted, largely because his quarterback struggled to get off a pass, and the Commanders allowed five plays of 23 or more yards. Washington was down 24-0 at halftime, a gap far too big to overcome.
“The biggest thing is not giving up [explosive plays],” cornerback Kendall Fuller said. “I think I gave up two that both led to points, so that’s something we have to get better at and I have to get better at.”
Those plays proved costly early, but the sacks cost Washington for the majority of the game. Somehow, the Eagles’ halftime edge didn’t fully reflect their domination.
Washington’s depleted defensive line held up in the first quarter to generate pressure on Hurts, and the secondary played tight coverage. Benjamin St-Juste, a second-year cornerback who worked primarily in the slot during the first two games, shifted outside because William Jackson III was inactive with a back injury. St-Juste had three pass breakups, two of which were on third and long, sparing Washington from even more big plays.
Among Philadelphia’s biggest threats coming in was its rushing offense, which ranked second in yards per game. Washington held the Eagles to 72 rushing yards on the day, a notable feat considering run defense was among the Commanders’ weaker links.
But by the second quarter, the Eagles (3-0) found their groove as Wentz continued to take hit after hit, shutting down the offense before it could get moving.
“We couldn’t sustain drives well enough, and we didn’t make enough plays on the outside to sustain drives,” McLaurin said. “... It’s tough when you lose but especially in that fashion and in your division.”
Six Eagles players accounted for the nine sacks, with defensive end Brandon Graham notching 2.5 of them. For Washington, the blame was shared. With guard Wes Schweitzer filling in at center, the reconfigured offensive line, especially right tackle Sam Cosmi, struggled to hold up in pass protection. But Wentz’s penchant for holding on to the ball too long stressed the line by forcing it to keep Eagles defenders at bay for far too long.
“The sacks and stuff, that’s not on them,” Wentz said. “Most of them probably aren’t. ... I got to get [the ball] out and stay confident. I think we did some of that today. Just not enough.”
Washington attempted to run the ball sparingly, with limited success. But the Eagles’ expanding lead forced the Commanders to play catch-up — 33 of Wentz’s 43 pass attempts came in the second half — even if they sputtered. And they often did.
Short screen passes were thrown into the ground. Deep balls went too deep. Each snap seemed to draw a collective gasp from the hometown fans who stuck around. Wentz appeared shaken, and his teammates looked visibly fatigued and frustrated.
Philadelphia’s scoring was contained to the first half, when Hurts threw all three of his touchdown passes: one to tight end Dallas Goedert, another to wide receiver A.J. Brown and the third to DeVonta Smith, who high-pointed a 44-yard pass in double coverage to set up his two-yard touchdown catch on the final play, which began to clear the stands. But even then, Washington squandered its limited opportunities.
Its first points were scored by defensive tackle Daron Payne on a safety — after Washington failed to punch it into the end zone on fourth and one — to make it 24-2. And although McLaurin finished with six catches for 102 yards, it wasn’t until the third quarter that he was finally targeted.
“I think [Wentz] could’ve played better,” Coach Ron Rivera said bluntly. “That’s the truth.”
Some Commanders fans stuck around to witness three more sacks before heading for the exits and missing out on Antonio Gibson’s one-yard touchdown run with 1:55 left.
They had seen enough.