The Eagles played it safe with Carson Wentz. It's time to see if the move pays off.
"All-In For Week 3" doesn't quite have the same ring to it, does it?
No, it's not catchy. It's not what Carson Wentz wanted. But that's what the Philadelphia Eagles have done with Wentz, their third-year franchise quarterback coming back from the knee injury in December that cut short what otherwise might have been a league MVP season for him in 2017.
Wentz targeted this season's opener for his return. But he didn't get his way, and his comeback instead begins Sunday in Philadelphia against the Indianapolis Colts in the season's third game. For the Eagles, there was no reprisal of the "All-In for Week 1" approach that may have contributed to the undoing of quarterback Robert Griffin III's career with the Washington Redskins.
Now the Eagles and Wentz begin to find out if their caution will be enough to allow Wentz to pick up where he left off.
"It's been a long time coming," Wentz said. "It's been quite the grind of an offseason and just throughout all of this, a lot of the unknown of when and all those things. I know you guys were dying to know. I was dying to know at the same time. So there's a lot of excitement."
So much has changed for the Eagles since Wentz last played for them. Backup Nick Foles directed them to a Super Bowl triumph in February. Foles made "Philly Special" part of NFL trick-play lore, and emerged as a best-selling author and a quarterback suddenly in demand.
Doug Pederson went from having his qualifications to be an NFL head coach questioned to outmaneuvering perhaps the greatest coach the league ever has seen, the New England Patriots' Bill Belichick, on the sport's grandest stage.
And the Eagles became champions, with the franchise's first Super Bowl victory.
It was supposed to be Wentz making these great things happen. The Eagles traded up to take him second overall in the 2016 NFL draft and installed him as an immediate starter as a rookie. Wentz quickly made the adjustment from North Dakota State to the NFL and proved to be the real deal, blending accurate passing from the pocket with improvisational wizardry when plays fell apart. The city's notoriously demanding fans adored him. By Year 2, Wentz was on even footing with Tom Brady in the MVP race.
But then came the shredded knee on a run toward the end zone against the Los Angeles Rams, and everything changed. Wentz was around the team during the Super Bowl run. But it was Foles, not Wentz, who became the Super Bowl hero. Wentz was left with the daily grind of his rehab, while having plenty of time to sit back and evaluate his on-field strengths and weaknesses.
"I think sometimes, sort of big picture, you get a chance to see everything and take everything in from that view," Pederson said this week. "It's a different view and it's a positive view. And so that's why moving forward I'm excited to see where he's at in that progression of his game."
The Eagles resisted any temptation to trade Foles during the offseason and split the first two games of this season, beating the Atlanta Falcons in the opener but losing at Tampa Bay last Sunday, before doctors gave Wentz final approval to return to full duties this week.
"My goal was Week 1," Wentz said at a midweek news conference. "I just came up a little short. But I knew the medical staff and the trainers and really everybody involved, the coaches, put a good plan together and I trusted what they had to say."
The unraveling of Griffin's career with the Redskins after he was the NFL's offensive rookie of the year in 2012 serves as a cautionary tale, in many ways. The memorable rookie season ended with Griffin crumpling to the turf at FedEx Field with a knee injury that left him unable to finish a playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks. Griffin, like Wentz, underwent surgery and targeted an Opening Day return. Unlike Wentz, Griffin had a promotional slogan for his timetable and he met his goal.
Whether that was a major part of what went wrong from there is debatable. But when Griffin, now on his third NFL team and relegated to a backup role in Baltimore after being out of the league last season, reflected before the Ravens' season about his early days in the league, he spoke of having had to learn his lessons and his limitations the difficult way.
"I was a little reckless," Griffin said. "Everybody thinks they're Superman. I had to learn that I am human. But there are some things that God has blessed me to be able to do that other guys cannot do, and I have to maximize those things. I think that's where I've … come along the most."
Wentz said this week that he will be mindful of doing what a quarterback must do on the field to protect himself. He will play with a knee brace for the remainder of the season, he said, on the recommendation of his doctors. Wentz said he knows he'll have to keep his excitement in check Sunday, although Pederson acknowledged that could be difficult for his quarterback.
"There's always gonna be that high emotion, and everybody [with] the anticipation of taking the field," Pederson said. "And you kind of want him to experience that, what that feels like. It's kind of like his first [NFL] start again. . . . It'll be a good feeling. It'll be good for our city. It'll be good for the team, obviously. I'm just looking forward to Sunday."
Frank Reich was the Eagles' offensive coordinator until leaving to become the head coach of the Colts. He makes his return to Lincoln Financial Field, and he knows what to expect when Wentz takes the field.
"It's gonna be an electric atmosphere," Reich said at midweek. "Carson is a rising young superstar in this league. That city has really embraced him. He's embraced the city."
Wentz also is doing nothing to dial back the expectations about how he and the Eagles will play.
"We expect to go and start fast, play fast, be clicking," Wentz said. "And so I truly believe that's a realistic expectation. Now, that's just football. It's not always like that. So those things come and you've got to learn how to balance those ebbs and flows of the game and everything. But I think we all hold ourselves to high expectations around here."
This article was written by Mark Maske, a reporter for The Washington Post.