Let Carson be Carson. Get off his back. Stop the criticism and appreciate the beauty of his game and his heart. That's the message here.
Quarterback Carson Wentz is a baller, as he again demonstrated on Sunday afternoon in a 30-28 loss to Baltimore in front of a lively and appreciative crowd of about 5,500 fans at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles, left for dead trailing 30-14 with 7:17 to go in the fourth quarter, came roaring back to score a pair of touchdowns and came within a two-point conversion of tying the powerful Ravens with less than two minutes to go.
"Carson is the type of guy who is going to put the team on his back, especially when we're faced with adversity," Head Coach Doug Pederson said. "Carson, playing as tough as he did, kept us in this game."
This one was painful – literally and physically – and it's best that the Eagles have to turn around quickly and play on Thursday night against the New York Giants. A terrible first quarter – a dropped pass, a turnover, poor play in the red zone defensively – put the Eagles in a hole and they had to play catch up the rest of the way.
On the first possession of the game, the Eagles opened with Wentz dropping back to pass. He was sacked for a 7-yard loss. On second-and-17, a screen pass to Miles Sanders lost 5 more yards. On third-and-forever, Wentz delivered a perfect throw to rookie wide receiver John Hightower streaking down the right side. The pass was … right … on … Hightower's fingertips. He dropped it.
The Eagles punted and Baltimore promptly gained 47 yards on nine plays, scoring on a 7-yard Lamar Jackson pass to tight end Nick Boyle and the Eagles were in a 7-0 hole.
A couple of ineffective offensive possessions later, Wentz faked a handoff and kept the ball on the left side, only to have the ball stripped away. Baltimore recovered at the Philadelphia 28-yard line and scored five plays later, on a Gus Edwards run, untouched through the heart of the defense, from 7 yards out. Just like that it's 14-0.
The dreadful first quarter ended with the Eagles down 14 points and outclassed in the game of statistics: Baltimore rang up six first downs to zero for the Eagles, converted 3 of 5 third downs while the Eagles converted 0 of 3, and outgained the Eagles 75 net yards to 10. The Eagles averaged 0.9 yards per play. Wentz was sacked once, had -4 yards of passing and lost a fumble that led to another Baltimore touchdown.
Hey, the Eagles battled after that and the defense was actually pretty good handling a complicated Baltimore running game led by the elusive and rocket-fast Jackson, but the deficit was 16 points early in the fourth quarter and then Wentz turned it on. His legs actually provided the spark – a 40-yard run down the right sideline on a second-and-16 play, the kind of physical, never-quit play that has defined Wentz. That kept the drive going and Wentz ended it a handful of plays later with an 18-yard touchdown pass to the still-hot Travis Fulgham (six catches, 75 yards, one touchdown, and a drawn pass interference penalty) and followed it with a two-point conversion pass to J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and the Eagles were within 30-22.
The defense held Baltimore to a three-and-out series, and the Eagles – aided by a 49-yard pass-interference penalty Fulgham drew against cornerback Marcus Peters – put the ball in the end zone on a Wentz sneak with 1:16 to go to cap a four-play, 71-yard drive, and the Eagles lined up for the two-point conversion. Wentz play-faked to running back Boston Scott, but was buried as the left side of the offensive line was caved in and the threat ended.
"We had a scouted look there that we felt confident in that play," Wentz said. "They made a good play and made life tough on us. It's frustrating to come up short like that, but hat's off to them."
Too bad. The Eagles showed all kinds of heart and toughness with a bunch of injuries, and still came up short.
"Really, last week, this week, obviously the ending is not what we wanted," said Wentz, who completed 21 of 40 passes for 219 yards and two touchdowns, along with 49 rushing yards and a score, "but to see the way guys have fought and being down in both games, rallied back, and the resiliency of this team is something that I don't think you can question and the toughness of these guys. I mean, you've got injuries all over the place and you've got guys stepping up that maybe just got here this week … that's never an excuse but there's a lot of good we can learn from and the fight and the effort is something that I'm so proud of these guys.
"To give us a chance to tie it up at the end of the game, obviously we came up short. We're frustrated with that, but I'm proud of these guys and we can keep building with this. We've got a quick week to turn it around and circle in the right direction."
This is a football team at the precipice of a season that can still be saved with NFC East games against New York and Dallas at Lincoln Financial Field the next two weeks. If the Eagles are going to make a move, they have to make it now.
And to make a move, the Eagles must …
1. Get this offensive line straightened out.
Jamon Brown started at right guard and was ineffective all game as the Eagles – who started rookie Jack Driscoll at right tackle before he was injured and replaced by Brett Toth, who had been with the Eagles all of a week after being claimed off of waivers from Arizona – allowed six quarterback sacks and Wentz took a beating. Wentz just didn't quit. He doesn't quit. Baltimore kept coming with all-out blitzes and Wentz didn't blink.
A 74-yard Miles Sanders run led to the team's first touchdown – he fumbled the ball at the 2-yard line and wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside recovered in the end zone and the Eagles manufactured some yards from Wentz, he had 49 yards on five carries, and backup quarterback Jalen Hurts, who had two carries for 23 yards. If right tackle Lane Johnson can play Thursday, that would help a whole lot. Maybe Matt Pryor can play after spending Sunday on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. Hopefully, Isaac Seumalo and Jason Peters can play before too much longer. Seumalo is eligible to play now and Peters is eligible to come off of Injured Reserve this week.
2. Get healthy. Somehow. Some way.
Sanders has a knee injury that sidelined him from the third quarter on, so he is a guy to watch between now and Thursday. Tight end Zach Ertz limped off the field in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury. Dallas Goedert is already out and likely not back for a few more weeks. The Eagles can ill afford to play against the Giants without Sanders and Ertz. Backup running backs Boston Scott and Corey Clement, unproductive through six weeks, are on notice. The Eagles need to get the running game going, and they need the backs to produce in the passing game.
Two starting linebackers, T.J. Edwards and Duke Riley, missed Sunday's game. Cornerback Avonte Maddox is still out. K'Von Wallace has a shoulder injury and didn't play after the first quarter. Defensive tackle Malik Jackson left in the fourth quarter with a quad injury. Looking for some good news this week regarding wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery. This passing game needs some punch. Driscoll was rolled up on late in the game and limped off the field. He was carted into the locker room, sending Toth, added to the roster on October 7 but only at practice for a week, into the game. The injuries are ridiculous.
3. The Eagles defense continues to battle, and the defensive line is playing its collective heart out. Jackson had a 37-yard touchdown run and the Ravens rang up 182 rushing yards, but the defense, given its poor field position and some tough breaks, really held it together. As long as the defense continues to win at the line of scrimmage, this group has a chance to play aggressive, downhill defense. The red zone remains a problem – Baltimore scored touchdowns on both of its possessions on Sunday before a meaningless final-possession snap there – as Philadelphia ranks among the worst defenses in the league inside the 20-yard line. Whatever the reason, the Eagles need to fix it and now.
4. Playing from ahead would really make a defense, particularly in the way the defense plays. The Eagles have scored a lone field goal in three first quarters at Lincoln Financial Field and with two home games coming up, you know, it would be a big boost …
5. Special teams need to be better. The return game hasn't been overly productive and placekicker Jake Elliott is 1-for-4 from 50-plus yards this season – a miss at Washington (53 yards), at Pittsburgh (57 yards), and on Sunday (52 yards). That is not typical for his career. He needs to make those kicks.
As bad as it looks at 1-4-1, the season can be saved. And Carson Wentz is the guy to lead the way. He's a baller. He's a beast. Admittedly, there is no margin for error, particularly in the five remaining NFC East games. The next two games – home against New York and Dallas – are the make-or-break moments for the Eagles. Six games in, the Eagles have been poor and nobody is happy about the record. Or the injuries. Or the lack of consistency. Or the mistakes. But there is a season to save here and the Eagles can move right on to Thursday's critical game against the Giants and put the terrible first quarter and the just-missed fourth quarter against Baltimore in the rear-view mirror.