After getting decked, Wentz bounces back
PHILADELPHIA — Carson Wentz survived. He survived a blow to his head. He endured despite some dubious late-game gambling by his coach. And he outlasted a future Hall of Fame quarterback to notch the first victory of his young NFL career in which the outcome was decided by one score.
It wasn't pretty. But the Eagles had been losing ugly for weeks. They needed this. They needed some positive momentum heading into 2017. The Cowboys in the season finale remain, but with their 24-19 win over the New York Giants on Thursday night the Eagles helped hand Dallas the NFC East division crown and moved it one step closer to resting its starters on Jan. 1.
But the Eagles were playing for pride, and they were playing for their contortionist quarterback, who left late in third quarter after Giants defensive end Olivier Vernon chucked him into the Lincoln Financial Field turf and his head snapped back.
It wasn't quite a Willis Reed-like return, but as Wentz — the No. 2 draft pick from North Dakota State — took the field a series later the crowd erupted.
"They love hard work and they love winning," Wentz said of Eagles fans. "I'm the same way. I hate to lose. . . . It's a great fit."
He drove the Eagles into field-goal territory and a Caleb Sturgis 41-yard boot gave them a 24-16 lead with just under nine minutes left.
It would end up being more than enough, but it forced the Giants to have to score seven rather than three on a last-gasp possession that ultimately ended with Terrence Brooks intercepting Eli Manning. The Giants quarterback had a woeful night and tossed three picks.
Wentz, on the other hands, was workmanlike. He completed 13-of-24 passes for 152 yards and a touchdown. A second-quarter interception was the lone blemish on his card. Wentz also scrambled four times for 27 yards, sometimes in spectacular fashion.
But the night was anything but easy.
Wentz had an opportunity to put the Giants away or at least dump a few more shovels of dirt on their chances — but on third down and 6 with under four minutes and 30 seconds left, he threw high to Nelson Agholor over the middle.
The Giants failed to score points on the ensuing drive, but they got the ball back when Doug Pederson gave Wentz a run-pass option on third down and 5 with 1:42 remaining. The quarterback chose pass and went to Jordan Matthews, but the receiver couldn't break free of corner Trevin Wade and the ball was batted to the grass.
Those errant passes wouldn't come back to haunt Pederson and Wentz.
The game could have turned into a nightmare late in the third quarter. Wentz had the Eagles into Giants territory when on third down and 14 he threw well short of the sticks, conceding fourth down. But Vernon foolishly slammed the quarterback to the ground and was flagged for roughing the passer.
After a brief second, Wentz slowly stood up. He didn't move until tackle Jason Peters came over to check him out. But when he took a step, he wobbled and had to lean on Peters, who then waived for the Eagles' medical staff.
"I was obviously a little dizzy there and (Peters) just helped me," Wentz said. "He was like, 'You need to go to the sideline, bud.'"
Wentz walked with assistance to the bench, was looked at by team doctor Peter DeLuca and then eventually jogged indoors where he underwent examination for a head injury. Chase Daniel, meanwhile, took over at quarterback. He marched the Eagles to the 1-yard line, but Pederson's fourth down roll of the dice failed.
Wentz would miss only one drive. When he went back on the field, it was as if his bell never had been rung. Or maybe his daredevil act on the series was because he hit his head on the turf. Who knows?
On his first play, Wentz shook a rusher and threw the ball away. On the next, he somehow kept his footing after a defender swiped him with a paw. Wentz then scrambled up the middle for 11 yards.
Two plays later, Pederson inexplicably called for a reverse end-around to Agholor that placed Wentz in a position where he could be a blocker if he so chose. Wentz being Wentz, of course, forged straight ahead and hit Giants cornerback Eli Apple, who left with an injury.
"If I'm out in front and there's somebody there," Wentz said, "I'm going to block him."
Sturgis' 41-yard field goal two plays later capped the scourge.
Wentz had a Wentzian first half — at least a first 30 minutes that was a microcosm of his previous ten games. There was good, bad and ugly.
The good came late in the second quarter. Wentz had scrambled 8 yards to the Giants 45 and gave himself up with a slide. Apple appeared to do his best to avoid contact, but Wentz jerked his head back violently — scoring 10s from the Italian soccer judges - and drew an unnecessary roughness penalty.
On the next play, Wentz saw something he liked before the snap and motioned out wide to Agnolor. He then stepped up in the pocket and lofted a pass to his receiver, who took advantage of a blown coverage and caught an easy — even for Agholor — 40-yard touchdown.
Later, Wentz once again kept a play alive with his athleticism. But the gunslinger went deep to Bryce Treggs, who was open for a brief moment. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie closed that window in seconds and picked off the pass. It was a 41-yard change of possession — as good as a punt — but it was another rookie moment.
Wentz has one more week left of being a rookie. Few would describe him that way anymore.
"He's a tiger," Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said just feet away from Wentz as he dressed in Linc locker room after the game. "A tiger."