It takes time, head coach Doug Pederson says, as he talks about quarterback Carson Wentz. There is no set prescription for Wentz, in his third season, to "arrive" as a complete, seasoned, "in his prime" kind of quarterback.
"I don't know if you put a year on it," Pederson said on Monday, the day after the Eagles' 29-23 overtime loss to Dallas. "I think you're constantly improving every year. I would say most quarterbacks, and this is coming from when I played in the West Coast system, that your growth process is through three seasons, but I think you're constantly evolving. You listen to these veteran quarterbacks now and they're constantly learning. Carson, like those quarterbacks, is going to keep learning and growing."
Sunday's defeat was a bitter one and Pederson is moving his focus, as difficult as that is for everyone, to what's next, and that's a trip to Los Angeles to play the Rams. Wentz returns to the stadium where he suffered his serious knee injury exactly one year ago today, against the Rams and quarterback Jared Goff, who will be forever linked with Wentz. Goff and Wentz were the top two picks, respectively, in the 2016 NFL Draft and both players have encountered their share of growing pains.
The Rams are coming off a couple of struggling games – a win over Detroit in which Goff passed for 207 yards with one touchdown and one interception, and Sunday night's 15-6 loss at Chicago in which Goff tossed four interceptions. As the young quarterbacks have learned, an NFL season has its shares of ups and downs. Goff, with 27 touchdowns and 11 interceptions this season, is having the same kind of ride as Wentz.
What's different is that the Rams are 11-2, champions of the NFC West and tied with New Orleans for the best record in the conference, while the Eagles are 6-7 and clinging to playoff hopes.
"There are a lot of things that are going to happen here in the next three weeks," Pederson said. "What I love about where we are as a football team is that we still get to control it. If we have success and win these next three, we're in a really good position to be a Wild Card team. That's what I said after the game the other day. Obviously, it hurts. It's tough to lose the way we lost but we've got to keep our heads up. We've got to come to work and get ready for another good road test against a good football team and still have an opportunity in front of us to make the postseason."
To do that, Wentz has to lead the way. He didn't play well for most of three quarters along with a struggling offense, and then Wentz got into his rhythm and threw three touchdown passes in the final quarter and a half. How can the Eagles sustain that level of play? Isn't that the question we've asked all season?
"Overall, he did some nice things in the football game," Pederson said. "The fourth quarter stands out with the three touchdown passes that he had. He made some really good throws down the stretch to keep us in that football game. The rest of the game was sort of a chess match, back and forth. I think both defenses played extremely well. A glaring statistic is the one for nine on third down, which, for our standard, is unacceptable. We have to do better there. I thought Carson's performance was good. We'll evaluate with him and make corrections."
Pederson expects Wentz to "grow through the years and gain valuable experience" and "it comes with time." We're a year, to the day, from Wentz's knee injury. Wentz was brilliant in 2017 and, as Pederson said, "we feel we can be back in that (championship) game again under Carson's leadership. We're on the right track. We've got to continue to work and build."
Wentz has 21 touchdown passes and seven interceptions this season. The numbers are good, solid. More than that, though, is an offense that has not found a consistent stride. The first half of most of the games have been struggles. Wentz has had times where he's not seen open receivers, or he's gotten the ball to them late or off target, for a variety of reasons. He hasn't been as crisp in and out of the pocket as in his first two seasons. He has nine fumbles and has lost the ball six times.
Ups and downs. That's how it goes for every young quarterback in this league.
"Every great quarterback is going to have highs. They're going to have a lot more highs than lows, but it's those low moments that you can find strength in, that you can learn from," Pederson said. "Right now, Carson is in that boat. He's having success, but we're not winning. He's having individual numbers, but as Carson will tell you, it's about winning and not stats. You learn from moments like that.
"Those are teachable moments to put in front of your quarterback now and say, 'Let's stick with it. Stick with the plan. Trust the process and great things are going to happen.'"