WENTZ FINALLY LOOKS LIKE HIS 2017 VERSION WHILE LEADING EAGLES TO A THRILLING OT WIN OVER THE GIANTS
Carson Wentz had heard all the comments from fans and observers. The Eagles franchise quarterback has a lot of talent, but can’t seem to ever get his team off to a good start, he is not clutch with the game on the line. Wentz is a front runner and is not the type of quarterback who can pull his team together for a big comeback.
Some of that criticism is valid. No one will take away the 2017 season and how he led the Birds to the No. 1 seed in the playoffs before suffering a season-ending injury. No one believes Nick Foles would have led the Birds to a Super Bowl win without that seeding.
But Wentz has not come close to the quarterback he was two years ago. The Eagles are just one game over .500 since the Super Bowl. Foles was 5-2 in the games he played since the Super Bowl. Injuries continue the former No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
But Wentz’s performance in the second half of the Eagles key NFC East game against the New York Giants was vintage 2017 Wentz.
Trailing 17-3 at the half, Wentz orchestrated a comeback any Hall of Fame quarterback would be proud of. The Birds pulled out a thrilling 23-17 overtime win that keeps the Eagles on track to take the NFC East and the No. 4 seed that comes with it.
At the half, the Eagles had managed to produce 116 yards of total offense. By the end of the game, the Birds accumulated 418 total yards of offense. He managed that using rookies, practice squad players and backups at many key positions.
After the game, Wentz was asked on what the level of personal achievement it is to lead a fourth-quarter comeback.
“Like I said, this is huge for this whole team,” the 26-yar-old said. “I mean to come in after halftime, to be where we were, and obviously knowing that our backs were against the wall, season on the line-type thing, for guys to just stay tough and stay together late in the game. I was a little bummed we didn’t win in regulation. We came up a yard short in that third-and-long, but to come out in overtime and get the win and drive down to score right away is huge for me personally and for this entire team.”
Wentz was asked how personal of a comeback win it was for him.
“Like I said, it’s big. It’s big for me and for all of these guys,” Wentz said. “You know, the emotional rollercoaster of the day and obviously realizing how poor we were in the first half and just how it spring-boarded us into the second half. We just made plays and kept making plays. Winning late in overtime like this, it’s been a while. Shoot, I don’t think I’ve had an overtime win. That was just a lot of fun.”
The victory gives the Eagles a 6-7 record overall, tied for first place with the Dallas Cowboys in the woeful NFC East.
If the Eagles win their final three games starting this Sunday at Washington Redskins (1:00 PM FOX), December 22 at home against the Dallas Cowboys and December 29 at the Giants, the Birds will clinch the NFC East, the No. 4 seed and host a Wild Card playoff game at Lincoln Financial Field.
Head coach Doug Pederson was asked if his players were angry at themselves during practice this week for allowing their record to be so bad.
“Listen, we hadn't won a game since our bye up until tonight, so guys are disappointed,” Pederson said at his post game press conference. “Guys are mad. Guys are frustrated. I'm frustrated. So sometimes it kind of flushes out some things during the week, and we had a really good week of practice, and the guys, I could really see the guys kind of turn a corner from the standpoint of coming together as a football team, especially this time of the year. We're into the last month of the season. And we know what's in front us. We know what's at stake, the guys do know what’s at stake. It was a good week.”
Because of injuries to wide receiver Nelson Agholor and running back Jordan Howard coming into the game, plus losing wide receiver Alshon Jeffery early in the second quarter, Wentz was down to using receivers and ball carriers who were on the practice squad at the beginning of the season. Running back Boston Scott, wide receiver Greg Ward and tight end Josh Perkins all took turns stepping up in the second half.
The Eagles were able to put together drives at the end of the game without the services of All
Pro right tackle Lane Johnson, who was carted off the field in the second quarter after suffering what appeared to be a serious ankle injury.
“The biggest thing is we had a lot of guys go down and we had a lot of contributions from some young guys,” said safety Malcolm Jenkins, who finished with four tackles, two defended passes and a forced fumble. “Guys that were sitting on our practice squad maybe a couple months ago came up with some big plays to help us win this game when obviously we didn’t come out with a good start.”
The Eagles fell behind 17-3 on two long passes from Eli Manning to Darius Slayton in the second quarter. The first was a 35-yard catch and run eight seconds into the quarter. The second was a 55-yard bomb to Slayton who was open by at least ten yards when he caught it.
In both cases, it was veteran cornerback Ronald Darby attempting to cover the 22-year-old rookie out of Auburn.
Cornerback Jalen Mills said the Birds defense did not have a good first half but came through when it counted.
“We play four quarters of football,” Mills said. “At the end of the day, that wasn’t us. We’re at home. We have to protect our house. At halftime we made the corrections, guys knew what we had to do. “
Mills was asked about the tone in the locker room at intermission.
“It was pretty calm,” said Mills, who led the team with five solo tackles. “We knew we made a couple mistakes out there, we knew the corrections that we made. Schwartz talked to us about the corrections to the defense, in the second half we made those corrections.”
The Eagles shut out Manning and the Giants in the second half holding Big Blue (2-11) to just 29 yards of offense and two first downs.
The Eagles offense finally started to click at the end of the third quarter.
Scott capped a 10-play, 58-yard drive (5:39) with a two-yard rushing touchdown, cutting the deficit to seven points with 1:28 left. It was his first rushing touchdown as an Eagle.
The fourth quarter and overtime was all Wentz. After coming up short on their first drive, Wentz freelanced his way to a 14-play, 85-yard drive that ended with a two-yard touchdown pass to Zach Ertz with 1:53 left that tied the score 17-17.
The Giants went three-and out thanks in part to a great defensive play on third down by backup cornerback Sidney Jones. The Eagles could not get anything going in the final 1:25 of the fourth quarter, and game went to overtime.
While the Giants sent four players out for the coin toss for overtime, only Jenkins represented the Eagles.
The Giants made the call. While the coin was in the air, the Eagles Pro Bowl safety pointed at the coin as it hit the ground. The Birds won the toss and never looked back. Jenkins was asked if sending only him out for the toss and pointing at the coin was a physiological ploy.
“It did go our way,” Jenkins said with a big grin. “I didn’t call it, so I can’t take credit for it…but good call by them.”
The Giants seemed helpless to stop Wentz and the Eagles who went eight plays, 75 yards in 5:13 to score the winning touchdown, another two-yard pass to Ertz.
“We were confident,” Giants wide receiver Sterling Shepard said at his locker after the game. “It just didn’t happen that way. That’s the way the game goes sometimes. We have to get back to the drawing board and figure it out.”
Wentz finished the game 33 of 50 for 325 yards and two touchdown passes. He was sacked three times but did not throw an interception.
Scott carried the ball 10 times for 59 yards and a touchdown. Miles Sanders rushed for 45 yards on 15 carries.
Ertz led the Eagles with nine catches for 91 yards and two touchdowns. Scott also caught six passes on six targets for 69 yards/
Perkins made the most of his opportunity making five catches on five targets for 37 yards.
Much maligned rookie wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside contributed two catches on three targets for 29 yards including a crucial third down 22-yard reception on the game-tying drive.
Manning finished the game 15 of 30 for 203 yards and two touchdown passes. He was sacked twice but not intercepted. Saquon Barkley rushed 17 times for 66 yards.
Slayton had a career day catching five passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns. *
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii