Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden probably has too many things on his mind right now to be thinking about the Eagles offense, but if I was his campaign manager, Greg Schultz,
I’d be the Wentz whisperer. After all, if you recall, back on September 11th of 2016, after the Eagles beat the Browns 29-10, the Vice-President at the time told then President Barrack Obama, that he should “get on the Wentz wagon.” Carson Wentz had a big game that day going 22/37 for 278 yards, with 2 TDs and no interceptions in his first game as an Eagle.
Most politicians, especially those running for president, tend to stay neutral when it comes to their sports loyalties for fear of them losing some possible votes from the other fan bases. But since Pennsylvania is a perennial “swing” state it might not hurt if Biden pushed the Wentz platform in the final few weeks of his campaign in hopes of locking down PA’s 20 electoral votes.
Wentz certainly didn’t gain any MVP votes for his performance last night versus the San Francisco 49ers, but he did reestablish himself as the bonafide leader of this injury-plagued,
angst producing, team of no-name misfits. Check out what Wentz was dealing with Sunday night.
His offense line included a former rugby player at left tackle, an undrafted left guard, a sixth-round right guard and, at times, a fourth-round rookie at right tackle because of a recurring ankle injury to Lane Johnson.
His receiving corps featured three former practice squad players, two were on the practice squad the day before, and one fifth-round pick.
Oh and he was also without tight end, Dallas Goedert, who would have really helped cover up all those receiver injuries and deficiencies.
Wentz was 18/28 for 193 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT and 1 rush TD as he led the previously winless Birds to a 25-20 victory over the 49ers. The Eagles, believe it or not, are in first place in the NFC East. The division is a combined 3-12-1.
The night did not start out well for Wentz as he threw an interception on the first series of thegame. In fairness, the ball was tipped but it looked like another example of the franchise qb trying to do too much. But on the very next time out, Wentz led the Birds on an eight play, 78 year drive, culminating in a zone read, fake hand-off to Boston Scott, and an 11 yard Wentz scamper to the left untouched for the game’s first touchdown. Then, inexplicably, the Birds went for two as Wentz found Zach Ertz wide open to his right for the successful conversion to give the Birds an 8-nothing lead.
Both were brilliant play calls by head coach Doug Pederson who appeared to be slightly more imaginative than he had been in the three previous games. That’s the kind of play that he
should have had in his back pocket the prior week when his team scored a touchdown, down seven, with :21 seconds left against the winless Bengals. Instead of going for two a week ago,
Pederson decided to play for the tie and roll the dice in overtime and we all know how that worked out.
San Francisco back-up quarterback Nick Mullens started for the injured Jimmy Garappolo and was just hideous. But he did lead a 12 play 75 yard drive to start the 2nd half that ended with a touchdown pass to tight end George Kittle to give the 49ers a 14-8 lead. Kittle was even better than advertised hauling in 15 balls for 183 yards and a touchdown on 15 targets Sunday night -sensational!
You know It’s amazing how I often talk each time on the air about how important turnovers are to the outcome of these games and how often that truism turns out to be, not prophetic, but just simply true. The Eagles entered the game with a -7 in turnover differential, worst in the league, and the defense hadn’t recorded a takeaway after the first three games. (Did you notice the 0-2-1 record after three games?). Right now the Dallas Cowboys are last in the league at -7 and are 1-3. The Broncos are 31st in the league in turnover differential at -6 and are also 1-3. The Houston Texans are 3rd to last in the league in turnover differential and are 0-4. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns lead the league in this all important stat with a +6 margin and are 3-1. The Titans and Seahawks are tied for 2nd with a +5 turnover differential and are 3-0 and 4-0 respectively. Here endeth the lesson.
Why do you ask must I beat you over the head with this annoying yet valuable knowledge that you can amaze your friends with? Because the game turned on a dime in about five minutes
Sunday night in the 4th quarter because of what? Correct! And not just one but two gigantic, juicy, game-changing turnovers!
The 49ers were leading 14-11 with just under 10 minutes left in regulation when Birds defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz dialed up a blitz, sending six Eagles after Mullens. Cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc got a hat on the ball and knocked it out of Mullens’ hand and it was scooped up by defensive lineman Malik Jackson.
That gave Carson Wentz the ball at the San Francisco 42 yard line. This is usually the point in the game where my story line becomes clear. Because up until this point Wentz played better than in the three previous weeks, but not great, and Doug Pederson was better but not extraordinary. And I have to be honest, after watching the first few plays of this series I felt I had a pretty good grasp of which way this story line was going to go.
On first down, Pederson trots out rookie quarterback 2nd round pick Jalen Hurts and lines Wentz up outside. What? Are you kidding me? His team is 42 yards away from taking the lead
and he’s going to take the ball out of Wentz’ hand? Hurts gained 4 yards with an outside run. On second and six from the 49ers 38 and Wentz, who was back under center, had a clean
pocket and just completely missed a wide open Greg Ward on a crossing route. Can you see where I thought this was going?
On third down Miles Sanders caught a short pass for a two yard gain. Now it’s fourth and four from the San Fran 36 yard line. Coach could have tried a long field goal
for the tie but instead he looked like his old self again by going for it on fourth down. That’s when Wentz hit 5th round pick, rookie wideout Jonathon Hightower for a nine yard gain and the Birds were in business.
But on first down from the 27, Pederson called a jet sweep for the newly acquired practice squad running back Adrian Killins and all he did was lose 12 yards.
Then on second and 22 Wentz made a spectacular play by avoiding two defenders and finding Boston Scott for a 17 yard gain. The 49ers were called for defensive holding and that gave the Birds a first down at the San Francisco 34.
But on 1st down, again inexplicably, out came Hurts and he ended up fumbling his second snap of the game and took an eight yard loss on the play. To be fair, center Jason Kelce did not have a great night hiking the football in the shotgun formation.
So that pushed Wentz and the Eagles back to where they started, the 42 yard line with a first and 10. This is when Wentz looked like the franchise quarterback the Eagles drafted him to be. He dropped a tear into the arms of Travis Fulgham, that’s right, Travis Fuilgham, who was just signed from the practice squad this past week, Fulgham beat his man on a go route, hauled in the ball and tip-toed his way into the end zone for his second career catch and his first career touchdown. That gave the Birds an 18-14 lead.
On the very next play from scrimmage Mullens threw the ball right into the arms of practice squad alum, linebacker Alex Singleton, and he took it back for a 30 yard pick six. And just like that, the Eagles had an 11 point lead that they wouldn’t relinquish. And it all happened in just about five minutes of clock time. The Birds finished a +2 in turnover ratio with three takeaways. Third string quarterback C.J. Beathard would replace Mullens and turn the game into a white knuckler. He led the 49ers to a quick touchdown and ended up throwing a 33 yard Hail Mary in the last play of the game that wasn’t answered.
So what did we learn? Well, we learned that it is way too early to give up on Wentz as this teams franchise quarterback. The 27 year old played and competed his tail off Sunday night.
He added a tough 37 yards on the ground on 7 carries and was only sacked three times. It was truly a gutsy performance by the much-maligned five year veteran.
Pederson also showed flashes of Douggy Fresh, the aggressive, risk taking, gambling play caller and decision maker that we had grown accustomed to.
But more than that I think we learned a lot about what some of the less talented guys could do when given the chance. Fulgham, Killens, Scott, Burnett, Ward, Singleton, are all practice squad guys and some were big contributors in the Eagles thirds straight trip to the playoffs last year. They are one of only four teams to do that.
Wentz played like himself, within himself and coach P got his mojo back if at least for one night. It might be criminal what General Manager Howie Roseman has left his two star subordinates to work with the last two seasons. But right now he’s probably taking his bows as his team is back in first place in the NFC East.