PHILADELPHIA — The ensemble that Carson Wentz chose for his first postgame news conference of the 2019 regular season had an Eastery flair to it — melon blazer, powder blue slacks with soft white plaid stripes, no socks — and if Philadelphia Eagles fans wanted to consider Sunday a resurrection of sorts, he had given them ample reason.
The Eagles had spotted the Washington Redskins a 17-point lead before remembering they were the better team and, at last, playing like it, charging back for a 32-27 victory, and Wentz had been as responsible as anyone for the rally. He had thrown for 313 yards, completing 28 of his 39 passes. He had been spectacular on the Eagles’ most important offensive plays of the game: Of the 13 passes he attempted on third down, he completed 12 of them for 197 yards and all three of his touchdowns, and in two third down-and-1 situations and one fourth-and-1, he had carried the ball himself and gotten a first down each time.
Twenty one months after he had torn two ligaments in his left knee, nine months since a stress fracture in his back hand truncated his 2018 season, he moved and threw with fluidity and ease, and it was what he wasn’t wearing Sunday that mattered most to him and the Eagles. He wasn’t wearing a knee brace, and he appeared again to be the quarterback who, in all likelihood, would have been named the National Football League’s most valuable player in 2017.
“It felt great,” said Wentz, the North Dakota State standout from Bismarck, N.D. “It felt great to finally get out there. It was a long offseason with a lot of things going on, so to finally be out here in front of our fans, running out of the tunnel, it felt awesome.”
It was one game, of course, just one game against a team that is expected to be among the NFL’s worst this season. But Wentz’s performance was the latest indication of why the Eagles traded up to draft him in 2016 and why they trust that they can, and will, win a Super Bowl with him, and for Wentz himself, Sunday had to feel like four hours of sweet freedom.
From a controversial news report that had painted him as selfish, stubborn player to a contract extension guaranteeing him nearly $108 million, from the pressure on him to match the magic of Nick Foles to the knowledge that he would enter a season fully healthy for the first time in two years, Wentz did have a tumultuous spring and summer. He didn’t play a snap in the preseason, so cautious was head coach Doug Pederson about exposing him needlessly to injury risk, and Sunday’s game was 19 minutes old before he unleashed a 51-yard dart to DeSean Jackson for the Eagles’ first touchdown, before he looked the quarterback he had been, the quarterback the Eagles need him to be.
From that moment on, the game was his. The Eagles’ offensive line protected him well — he was sacked just once — and the most reassuring aspect of his play was the ease with which he escaped the Redskins’ pass rush. In the third quarter, he stepped up, ducked to his right, and roped a 5-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery. In the fourth quarter, he twice rolled to his left to complete a pass for a first down, once to tight end Zach Ertz, once to Jeffery, each time extending a drive that lasted for 19 plays and 8 minutes, 55 seconds and culminated in a Jake Elliott field goal.
Carson Wentz, ladies and gents. This is the 2017 version.
“He’s just so confident, and I think everyone is so confident in him and his abilities,” Ertz said. “He doesn’t really have any more questions left to answer in my eyes or anyone else’s eyes, so he’s just going out there and playing like himself.”
As long as he does, the Eagles will remain what they are now: a bona fide favorite to win the Super Bowl. That has been the great hesitation about Wentz during his NFL career — the question of whether he can avoid another bone break or ligament tear. But the question is one that every NFL quarterback has to answer every week, and Sunday provided another relevant reminder of that truth. Before Wentz had even begun fashioning that comeback against the Redskins, Foles had left his debut with the Jacksonville Jaguars after less than a quarter. A defensive tackle for the Kansas City Chiefs had driven Foles into the ground, breaking Foles’ left clavicle. He will need surgery. There’s no telling when he’ll play again. “Devastating,” Ertz said.
A horrible day for Foles. A promising one for his friend and former teammate. With six seconds left in regulation, Wentz took a snap from center Jason Kelce, went down on one knee to run out the clock, and flipped the football to the nearest official. He shared a quick hug with Redskins defensive end Ryan Kerrigan, then found himself at the center of a congregation of players, coaches, and cameras. He jogged through a tunnel, into the bottom floor of Lincoln Financial Field, to whoops and cheers, to the hopeful sound that Sunday was the beginning of something memorable for the Eagles, and for him.