As the players reported to the NovaCare Complex following two days off, the intensity in the building zoomed exponentially. As everyone is saying now, the players "know what time it is." They get it. The Eagles need to beat Dallas on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field to keep their playoff hopes alive. And with that on this Wednesday, quarterback Carson Wentz stepped to the microphone.
As the fourth-year quarterback faces his first, true must-win game in his career, Wentz accepts the challenge, acknowledges the stakes, and is digging in. With all of the ups and downs of this season for the offense, with the myriad of injuries and changing lineups, Wentz has thrown 25 touchdown passes against only seven interceptions and he's run for another score. Wentz has played 99 percent of the snaps, showing his toughness and durability.
When asked if he thought Sunday was the "biggest" of his career, given everything around it, Wentz said, "You could probably say that.
"I mean, it's definitely a big game. We know the situation. We know what's going on. At the same time, we're treating it as another game and we're aware of everything. We're real excited and for one, I'm real excited that we're at home. I know these fans are going to show up and be loud. I can't wait until Sunday afternoon."
The season to this point hasn't been what the Eagles envisioned when they put together a roster that appeared to include every bit of talent needed to be an explosive, versatile, beat-you-in-a-lot-of-ways attack. Injuries chipped away, chipped away, chipped away … and Wentz has been throwing to young and inexperienced wide receivers the last two weeks.
And he's been winning.
The Eagles are incorporating their running backs in the passing game, using their tight ends as wide receivers, and putting first-year receiver Greg Ward into the role of go-to pass catcher in late-season, critical drives.
And they're winning.
Wentz has thrown five touchdown passes and zero interceptions the last two weeks. He's been brilliant in the fourth quarter (and overtime against New York) with late-game drives to win. That's got to continue on Sunday against a Dallas defense that flummoxed the Eagles in October, limiting Wentz to 191 passing yards, forcing a Wentz fumble, an interception, and sacking No. 11 three times.
"Honestly for Carson, I think it's just going to be another game for him," Pro Bowl right guard Brandon Brooks said. "I get it, it's the Cowboys and everything's on the line. One thing about him is that I don't think any moment is too big for him. And I don't think Sunday is going to be any different. What he's been able to do and overcome and weather through, not just this year but for years really, is a testament to him. Come Sunday I know he's going to ball out. I expect big things just like he's been doing all year. I look forward to it."
Said tight end Zach Ertz, another Pro Bowl player, of Wentz: "Obviously, he's a heck of a football player. He understands what's at stake. He'll be playing phenomenal, in my opinion. He'll be at his best when his best is needed on Sunday, just like hopefully all of us are.
"It's not going to fall solely on No. 11's shoulders. He can't have that mindset. We can't have that mindset as a football team. We have a lot of really talented players on this football team, so all of us have to step up. He shouldn't feel like he has to carry us and we shouldn't expect that."
True, but Wentz has been great when the Eagles have needed him most. He's checked off the boxes needed to save the season – he led the offense late in the fourth quarter and in overtime to beat the Giants. He drove the offense down the field to throw the winning touchdown pass to Ward at Washington. Two games, two dramatic come-from-behind wins.
That's what is called "taking the next step" for a quarterback.
Wentz has done that.
His greatest challenge comes on Sunday.
"I'm excited about it," Wentz said. "The last couple of years didn't end the way I wanted them to, personally, obviously being hurt and everything, so I'm just excited to be playing here in December with what's at stake and to be out there with my guys. I'm excited."