In a storybook start to the 2018 debut of quarterback Carson Wentz, the Eagles took a circuitous route to defeat Indianapolis 20-16 Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. There was the Wentz introduction as the last offensive player to come through the tunnel and onto the field as the fans exploded with loud, sustained cheers.
There was the first offensive drive, on which Wentz completed 5 of 7 passes, the final one a 13-yard dart over the middle to rookie tight end Dallas Goedert to give the Eagles their first opening-quarter points of the season. There was also a long lull, during which the offense struggled to score points and when Wentz threw an interception and lost the football in the pocket, two giveaways deep in Eagles territory that turned into six Indianapolis points as the Eagles' defense rose to the challenge with a pair of red zone stops.
And then there was the gut-check drive that came in the fourth quarter with the Eagles trailing 16-13 and in need of points. Helped by a Colts defensive holding call that gained a first down on a second-and-26 play and another Indianapolis holding call that erased an incomplete pass on a fourth-and-5 play, the Eagles reeled off a 17-play, 75-yard drive that Wendell Smallwood finished off with a 4-yard touchdown run.
Then the defense, which played big all day, came up with a Derek Barnett sack of quarterback Andrew Luck to thwart a red zone challenge (the Colts were just one of five in the red zone) and then a stop on a final-play throw into the end zone as the fans, drenched by a steady rain most of the day, celebrated.
The story of the afternoon was the Return of No. 11. He didn't disappoint.
"It felt good to finally be out there. It's kind of a long time coming," said Wentz, who was 25-of-37 for 255 yards with a touchdown, an interception, and a lost fumble. "Obviously, a lot of excitement, a lot of emotions. But coming out the way we did with that hot start going right down the field, going some no-huddle tempo, it felt good.
"Emotions were running high from the moment I woke up this morning. But for me, it's always putting on worship music and getting into the zone like that. It just felt like another game at the end of the day."
"Carson was Carson," center Jason Kelce said. "He doesn't change. He's been through this before."
Yeah, maybe, but not since suffering a serious knee injury on December 10 against the Los Angeles Rams and working diligently on coming back for the last 10 months. Wentz's return provided a real jolt of energy to the Eagles – not just the fans, but the entire sideline – and the pace of the offense was just different than it had been the previous two weeks with Nick Foles at the helm. Head coach Doug Pederson came out throwing. He used no-huddle in the opening drive and he relied on Wentz to do his thing. The third-year quarterback had a green light to run and his day included a third-and-6 scramble to the left edge after eluding defenders that finished with Wentz diving for the first-down mark, and hitting it, in the second quarter.
Check out all of the best photos from Philadelphia Eagles vs. Indianapolis Colts on September 23, 2018.
All it all, it was a huge positive for Wentz and the Eagles in his first game back. He was sacked five times and pressured and hit a lot as Indianapolis brought the heat, blitzed some, and make sure Wentz didn't get too comfortable sitting in the pocket picking the defense apart. Wentz threw an interception in the third quarter when his pass in the flat to tight end Zach Ertz was anticipated and intercepted by Colts linebacker Anthony Walker, who returned the football 11 yards to the 17-yard line. Wentz had another turnover later in the quarter when the ball was knocked out of his hands by Colts lineman Margus Hunt, who then recovered at the Eagles' 13. Both times the Eagles' defense limited Indianapolis to a field goal.
There is plenty to work on with Wentz. But, boy, it's great having him back on the field. He was mobile, he was fearless, and he was aggressive. The Eagles didn't have much going in the passing game outside of tight ends Ertz (five receptions, 73 yards) and Goedert (7-73, touchdown). Nelson Agholor had four receptions and 24 yards and Jordan Matthews caught a pair of passes for 21 yards, and that was it for the wideouts.
The offense isn't there, not quite. But Wentz on the field certainly helps.
"I mean, we had a lot of penalties, I had a bad snap in the red zone, and we had some turnovers. Those are things we can fix," center Jason Kelce said. "Carson was Carson out there. It's only going to get better as we work more together and get our timing down and fine-tune the little things."
The win was the Eagles' 17th in their last 20 games at Lincoln Financial Field and it was important on a day when Washington beat Green Bay and the Giants shocked the Texans in Houston. The Eagles know it's not all there yet, but nobody seemed to care a whole lot after the game. The style points aren't important.
They've got Wentz back, and in his first game he showed his wonderful escapability in and out of the pocket and the athletic movement and the big arm. The Colts didn't give the Eagles any shots down the field so the Eagles attacked the middle of the field with the tight ends and kept the chains moving with underneath throws.
To score the winning points with a 17-play, 75-yard drive that ate up 11:18 of the clock, well, that's just being smart and taking what the defense gives. And the Colts didn't give very much at all.
But the Eagles won, and Wentz is back and that's all that matters.
"It is huge to just pick up a win, in a hard-fought game with some tough conditions out there," Wentz said. "Guys really rallied around each other. The resilience I thought was huge today. We had that long drive at the end. We had some really unfortunate situations we were in, in second-and-extra-long, third down, the fourth down, you know, a couple of things, and guys just stayed together. The defense stepping up at the end was huge for us to get back on track."
Back on track, back to normal. Wentz took his first hit, threw his first touchdown pass, dived for his first first down, and led a fourth-quarter drive to score the deciding points. All in a great Eagles day of work.