Delaware Online Sports-
PHILADELPHIA – Carson Wentz wanted to make it through this season healthy and play in a playoff game.
He will do that Sunday when the Eagles face the Seattle Seahawks in an NFC Wild Card game.
"I’m excited, just how grateful I am to be healthy, to be in this moment with these guys, to be on the field," Wentz said. "I’ve been on the sidelines the last couple of years for these games, and I’m pretty pumped for the opportunity."
That only tells part of the story.
It has been a long two-year wait for Wentz, who tore his ACL in December 2017, then was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his back in December 2018. Each time, backup Nick Foles led the Eagles on playoff runs, the first culminating in the team's first Super Bowl victory.
Foles became a folk hero among Eagles fans, and many were upset that the Eagles allowed him to leave as a free agent after last season while the team committed to Wentz as the franchise quarterback with the record contract.
But in a way, what Wentz has done this season, leading the Eagles to four straight wins after they fell to 5-7 in a potentially demoralizing 37-31 loss to the Miami Dolphins on Dec. 1, is just as impressive as anything Foles did in the previous two playoff runs.
Wentz did it with a current cast of five wide receivers consisting of a rookie in J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, who has struggled, and four players who were on the practice squad as recently as six weeks ago.
Two of the five weren't even on the team as of Dec. 12.
"I guarantee you he didn’t know he was going to be throwing to half the people he’s been throwing to," said one of those former practice-squad players, tight end Josh Perkins. "It shows how great he prepares and how much he trusts us to be in the right position at the right time."
In the Eagles' 34-17 win over the Giants last Sunday, they also didn't have Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz, and likely won't against the Seahawks. Running back Miles Sanders sat out the last 2½ quarters with a sprained ankle, and Jordan Howard wasn't used after he missed six games with a shoulder injury.
Right tackle Lane Johnson also missed his third straight game with an ankle injury and right guard Brandon Brooks suffered a shoulder injury in the first half that ended his season.
"I think what Carson has done is very impressive," said backup quarterback Josh McCown, who is in his 18th season. "From Carson’s side of it, just trusting those guys, trusting the coaches, and trusting the guys around him.
"And doing the right thing with the football, over and over again. It’s been cool to watch."
Wentz became the first quarterback in Eagles' history to finish with more than 4,000 yards passing (4,039). He was one of 11 NFL quarterbacks to surpass that mark. But he and Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers were the only ones to do it without a 1,000-yard receiver.
Perhaps even more impressive, Wentz became the first quarterback in NFL history to surpass 4,000 yards without a wide receiver getting as many as 500 yards.
That would indicate that Wentz has produced all season long, not just in the last five games. That stretch began after Wentz's worst game of the season, a 17-9 loss to Seattle on Nov. 24. In that game, Wentz committed four of the Eagles' five turnovers with two interceptions and two lost fumbles.
Have there been big changes in philosophy or approach since then? The obvious ones are having Wentz move around more, and the use of more tempo.
But even in that loss to the Seahawks, the Eagles were moving the ball. They had 23 first downs compared to 14 for Seattle.
"I wouldn’t say a huge change," Wentz said. "At the end of the day, I thought offensively we did some things OK (against Seattle). It was just the turnovers."
In the five games since, beginning with the loss to Miami and continuing with four straight must wins, Wentz has completed 66.2 percent of his passes for 1,509 yards (301.8 yards per game) with 10 TDs and only one interception for a passer rating of 99.3.
Two passes were vintage. The first was the bullet that Wentz fired on the run into the back corner of the end zone against Washington on Dec. 15. The second was the 24-yard TD pass Wentz connected on with Perkins in which Wentz rolled right and threw all the way across the field into the front left corner of the end zone.
"I felt like that ball was in the air for a long time," Perkins said, describing the play. "I’m like, ‘It’s coming. There it goes.’ I’m just trying to make a play when it comes to me."
Wentz enabled him to, just like he has all season.
In the first 11 games, when the Eagles went 5-6, Wentz completed 62.6 percent of his passes for 2,530 yards (230 yards per game) with 17 touchdowns and six interceptions. His passer rating was 89.6.
His early-season stats could have been much better.
In Week 2, Nelson Agholor dropped a certain game-winning touchdown pass against Atlanta that would have gone for 60 yards. In Week 3, Arcega-Whiteside dropped a pass near the goal line in the final seconds that could have tied the game. And in Week 10, Agholor couldn't come down with a potential game-tying touchdown against New England in the back of the end zone.
Wentz also had DeSean Jackson healthy for just the season-opener. In that game, Wentz threw for 313 yards, three TDs and had a season-high passer rating of 121.0.
It should have been a harbinger of a high-powered offensive attack that would overwhelm opponents all season long.
Instead, Jackson was injured in the first quarter the next week, and he is on injured reserve. Jackson will be eligible to come off IR next week should the Eagles beat Seattle, although it's not known yet if he will.
Alshon Jeffery, also on injured reserve, and Agholor haven't played at all down the stretch.
That has left Wentz to rely on the likes of Greg Ward, Rob Davis and Deontay Burnett, who were all on the practice squad as recently as Nov. 23. Burnett didn't even join the team until Dec. 12, and yet in his first game as an Eagle last Sunday, he caught a 41-yard pass on another vintage throw from Wentz.
How did Wentz adjust to all the new players so quickly?
"You don’t have a lot of time," he said. "A lot of times, it’s just mentally and just having those conversations, what you’re expecting, what you’re thinking. You try to get as many physical reps as you can, but during the season it can obviously be tough. Just talking to them. The guys have done a great job, stepped up and made a lot of plays."
The Eagles aren't the only team to have to dig deep on the roster to replace injured players, especially toward the end of a season.
But those teams are generally out of the playoffs, trying to get a head start on evaluating young players for the next season.
The Eagles had to win each of their last four games to make the playoffs.
Wentz has made it all work. Will that change now that he finally gets a chance to play in a playoff game for the first time in his career?
Eagles coach Doug Pederson, for one, doesn't think so.
"I think in Carson’s case ... he doesn’t have to focus on anything more than just continuing to lead this team, and doing the things that have made him successful down the stretch here," Pederson said. "I don’t want to add any more stress or pressure on him ... I want him to play free and not have to worry about things in the past that are out of our control at this time."