EAGLES WIN NFC EAST, LOSE WENTZ, LOOK TO RALLY BEHIND FOLES
Eagles fans were dealt a gut punch late Sunday afternoon against the Los Angeles Rams when MVP candidate and quarterback Carson Wentz left for the locker room in the third quarter after injuring his left knee at some point during a drive that ended with him throwing a two-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery.
The score put the Eagles on top by a 31-28 in what had been a brutal back-and-forth affair.
The Rams would go back up 35-31 on the ensuing drive, but Wentz did not return to answer.
Instead, backup Nick Foles relieved Wentz and engineered his seventh career game-winning drive and sixth career fourth-quarter comeback in what turned out to be a thrilling 43-35 win over the Rams.
Foles, who orchestrated two scoring drives (both Jake Elliot field goals), finished the game 6-of-10 for 42 yards, the Eagles clinched the NFC East for the first time since 2013, ironically when Foles led the Birds to the division title.
But the celebration by the tens of thousands Eagles fans who made the trip the Coliseum, the players and all of Eagles Nation back in Philadelphia was tempered by the questions about the status their quarterback’s knee.
There was speculation out there it was a torn ACL but couldn’t be confirmed until Monday after Wentz had an MRI.
Their worst fears were realized on Monday when head coach Doug Pederson confirmed Wentz indeed did have a tear of his left ACL and was done for the season.
Wentz was putting together season for the books, literally. The 24-year-old had just thrown four touchdown passes in the game against the Rams that gave him a league-leading 33 for the season.
That total broke the franchise record for a single season, surpassing the previous mark of 32 set by Sonny Jurgensen in 1961.
The Eagles have lost core players all over the roster already this year including a future Hall of Fame offensive tackle in Jason Peters, starting running back Darren Sproles, middle linebacker Jordan Hicks and kicker Caleb Sturgis.
Still the Eagles are on course to grab the No. 1 seed on the NFC playoffs.
At his press conference Monday, Pederson talked about the obstacles this team has overcome to forge an 11-2 record.
Can the Birds overcome losing a potential All Pro and league MVP and reach the Super Bowl?
“It sure can, heck yeah,” Pederson said without hesitation. “We overcame (losing) a pro-bowl left tackle. We overcame our middle linebacker. We’ve overcome our running back. We’ve overcome a core special teams player this year. We’ve overcome our kicker this year. This is no different. Yeah, he is the quarterback of our football team. Each one of these guys that I mentioned is tough to replace. But you know what? The reason we went out and got Nick Foles was for reasons like this and situations like this. I’m excited for Nick. I hate it for Carson Wentz. I hate it for the career, the season, I guess, that he’s been having. But at the same time, it’s been the next-man-up mentality, and that’s how we approach it this week.”
Pederson was asked about what he can say to fans who are as disappointed as it could possibly get with news like this? People suddenly think your Super Bowl chances are gone. What do you say to them?
“That’s a great question,” Pederson said. “You know what? People thought our chances were gone by the wayside when Jason Peters went down too, and when Darren Sproles goes down, and all the guys I mentioned earlier. To the fans out there, you can’t lose faith.
“This has been a resilient football team all season long,” Pederson said, seeming to warm up to the question. “If there’s ever an opportunity for me as a head football coach to rally the troops, now might be the time. We just came off a tremendous victory to win the NFC East. Guys are riding extremely high. It’s a little bitter sweet. But we got the Giants this week. We got an opportunity that if you win Sunday, you get a first-round bye. So there is still a lot to play for.
“That’s what’s exciting about the rest of this season,” Pederson continued. “We’re still playing for that opportunity to hopefully be in that game. Nick has played a ton of football. I was here when we drafted him, and we drafted him for a reason. Then we went out and got him again this off-season for a reason. You never want it to be under these circumstances, but at the same time same time, my confidence is extremely high in Nick. You saw what he did in that game last night. The big third and eight to Nelson (Agholor). These are things, people ask me, ‘Why did you throw the ball?’
“Because I’ve got confidence in Nick. I’ve got confidence in the guys. That’s what I’m going to continue to do. I’m going to continue to stay aggressive. I’m going to lead this football team. It falls more on my shoulders than it does these players. That’s why they need to stay encouraged. That’s why they need to stay excited about this opportunity we have in front of us.”
The Eagles do have games in front of them they can win including the Giants (2-11) away, then the Oakland Raiders (6-7) and Dallas Cowboys (7-6) at the Linc.
The Birds will likely be favored in all three games, even without Wentz. Winning two will no doubt secure home field throughout and a bye.
Foles is 15-9 as a starter for the Eagles. They still have a stout offensive line (left guard Stefen Wisniewski is expected to play in New York) and can run the ball with anyone. The receiving corps is still one of the best in the NFL. The Birds defense is tops in the NFL against the run. Special teams gave up a touchdown against the Rams after a blocked punt, but overall is solid.
Pederson was asked that since the Eagles are 11-2, you’ve climbed the mountain to likely a first-round bye. Does that make Foles’ task in front of him a little less daunting with what’s already accomplished and set up for him?
“It’s interesting, because we’re still fighting not only for a playoff game, but also home field,” Pederson said. “So it’s still pretty important these next few games and these next three weeks for us as a team. Our mentality is like we’re just going to focus on this week and try to — we’re going to put the best game plan together and try to go win a football game up in New York this week and see what happens after that. Yeah, it’s just we’ve still got a lot in front of us and a lot to play for.”
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii