This is the cover story for the January 5 issue of Gameday Magazine, which can be found at the Lincoln Financial Field Pro Shop as well as Philadelphia-area ACME supermarkets this weekend.
Quarterback Carson Wentz stood at the podium at MetLife Stadium last Sunday just minutes after a 34-17 victory over the New York Giants clinched the NFC East title for the Eagles and reflected on the journey that landed the Eagles in the NFL's postseason. It was a record-setting season for Wentz, who became the first Eagles quarterback to throw a touchdown in every one of 16 regular-season games, to throw for more than 4,000 yards, and to establish a franchise record for most completions in a season.
Wentz stood there, healthy, happy, and "grateful" for the circumstances that have come together to push him into the first postseason of his NFL career.
"Grateful for my health, grateful to be out here with the guys in these big meaningful games. Grateful to be playing into January," said Wentz, who threw 27 touchdown passes and just seven interceptions in 16 games. He enters the playoffs having not thrown an interception since the final-play Hail Mary in the December 1 loss at Miami, a span of 173 passes. "The last few weeks have been backs-against-the-wall (games) for us. Guys have responded and stepped up and kept making play after play after play. Just kept believing. And here we are playing into January. Hopefully, we can do something special."
In his fourth season, Wentz has already vaulted into the upper, upper echelon of quarterbacks in Eagles history and in the entire NFL. He's accomplished so much – starter in first game as a rookie, MVP candidate in 2017, voted to the Pro Bowl, Super Bowl Champion – and yet when he trots onto the field Sunday to play the Seattle Seahawks, he will take his first playoff snap.
A knee injury suffered in December 2017 robbed Wentz of the glory of the World Championship run. A back injury suffered one year later ended Wentz's season as the Eagles made a final-month push to reach the playoffs.
In 2019, Wentz would not be denied. While the Eagles were ravaged by injury and the offense changed on the fly, Wentz remained the constant. He stepped up and carried the offense on his back, integrating the new players into the attack, flowing with whomever the Eagles had available at wide receiver or running back or tight end that week and making it work.
The Eagles won four straight games to close out the regular season and Wentz tossed seven touchdown passes and no interceptions in that period of time, showing complete command of the offense and the situation time and time again.
"I think he's grown up as a leader of this team," head coach Doug Pederson said. "You've seen it here now the last couple of games, how he's really just put the team on his back and said, 'Hey, follow me,' and I think that's a sign of growth and a sign of maturity. I spent eight years in Green Bay with Brett Favre and that's what Brett did. Brett just put the team on his back when the chips were against us and he said, 'Hey, follow me,' and that's what Carson can do. The guys really, and I have so much faith and trust in him that I can call almost any play and he's either going to make that one work or he's going to get us into a better play and so he's really grown up that way and really matured that way in this league and just really turned into a pro."
That Wentz played in a career-high 1,168 snaps – 99 percent of the Eagles' offense this season – is the biggest victory of all. He's been a terrific producer since he entered the league and has been every bit as sensational as the best of the best in the NFL – he's third in passing touchdowns per game since the 2017 season (2.0) and sixth in the NFL in passer rating (98.3) the last three seasons – but durability has been the challenge.
An offseason program to eat healthier and "lean out," as Wentz said in the summer, paid dividends. Wentz played smart football throughout the regular season, avoiding unnecessary hits whenever he could, but he didn't shy away from dazzling moments or picking up key yardage with his legs.
It's all added up to this moment. Wentz is the leader of the offense, but he knows the Eagles wouldn't be where they are without everyone – players, coaches, the entire team – contributing.
So, yes, this is a winning time for Wentz, and he appreciates it.
"I think that's what makes it that much more special," he said. "The camaraderie of the guys buying in and believing. Whether it's guys on the defensive side or offensive side, we've had new playmakers every week. Different guys stepping up because guys are getting hurt and banged up. It's just fun to see guys step up in big moments like that. Guys who were on the practice squad last year. For them to step up in the way they have and for guys to make plays, it's been so cool to see. I think that's what makes it that much more fun to do what we did."
Wentz, of course, is no stranger to championship football. He played at North Dakota State collegiately and was part of a program that won five NCAA Division I FCS National Championships – Wentz started at quarterback for two of those teams – and he knows the pressure of win-or-go-home games. The playoffs are going to be no different, really, than the Week 16 game at Lincoln Financial Field when the Eagles had to win to keep their playoff hopes alive against the Dallas Cowboys. The Eagles won, moving into first place in the NFC East.
Last Sunday, they clinched the division with Wentz at the helm.
This Sunday, he takes the next step in his development as the Eagles' franchise quarterback: The NFL playoffs.
"It's going to be a great experience for Carson but I don't think he's going to approach it any different than any other game. He's always so well prepared. This is not going to be a shock or anything like that," Pederson said. "It's great for Carson and this football team. We're here to win football games."
That's the truth. Just making it to the postseason isn't enough for Wentz and the Eagles.
"It's a great time to be hitting our stride. There's been a lot of ups and downs all season long, but guys have hung together and finding what we're really good at and what we do well and putting guys in the right situations," Wentz said. "Guys just keep believing, keep fighting. It's been good to see us hit our stride now and hopefully we can carry it over into the playoffs."