Doug Pederson told Carson Wentz before the game to take a look around and see everything. Soak it all in. Then go beat up on the worst team in football.
Wentz, Pederson and the Eagles ganged up on the woeful Cleveland Browns, winning 29-10 in their 2016 opener. It was a career day for Wentz, in part because it was the first game of his career, yes, but in part because, as rookie debuts go, this game was incredibly impressive.
“I wasn’t nervous,” Wentz told reporters after the game. “I don’t really get nervous. It’s a game and I try to enjoy it. I had a lot of fun today and the outcome was good.”
Wentz finished 22-of-37 for 278 yards with two touchdowns on the day, numbers that could have been even better if not for several drops from the Eagles backs and receivers.
“It’s not surprising…this is who he is,” Eagles head coach Doug Pederson, himself in his first NFL game in this new role, said of Wentz after the game. “This is his DNA. He prepared like he was a five-or-six year veteran and he obviously played that way.”
The Eagles got out to a hot start, as the first touchdown from Wentz came on the Eagles’ initial drive, with a beautiful 19-yard strike from Wentz to Jordan Matthews.
Wentz called the play “huge” for his confidence, but the offense stagnated a bit the rest of the first quarter and into the second. The Eagles managed a 13-7 lead at halftime, with Wentz 10-of-19 for 128 yards and that one score. He led a very good two-minute drive at the end of the first half, but a drop by Darren Sproles led to a field goal.
The Browns cut the lead to 13-10 just after halftime, but a safety two drives later gave the Birds a five-point cushion midway through the third quarter. That’s when things really started to click for Wentz, and when the wheels fell off for the Browns.
Wentz led the Eagles down the field on a nine-play, 73-yard drive after the safety, extended by a fourth-and-four completion to Zach Ertz, followed by a 35-yard touchdown strike to Nelson Agholor.
“When you sit down and look at a lot of the math involved with the field position the score, the time of the game, all the math just indicates…even if you don’t get it, then your defense is on the field around that 25, 26, 27 yard line,” Pederson explained. “That’s if you don’t get it. And then if you do, man, it’s great. You’re rolling. We were so fortunate, Carson and Zach made a great play.”
Wentz said he just went out and executed the play he was given in the moment, but admitted, “I was pretty excited that he had the faith in me to call the 4th-and-4 play and put us in that situation.”
“Normally in those situations it kind of takes the wind out of the sails defensively,” Pederson said when asked about going for the long touchdown on the next play. “I was in that mode where I wanted to stay aggressive with Carson and the guys and dialed it up on the next play.”
Dialed it up, indeed.
In all, here’s how good the debut was for Wentz: The 278 yards Wentz threw for ranks fourth from 1999 to 2016 for a first-year quarterback playing Week 1 of his rookie season. The only players with more yards in their Week 1 rookie debuts were Cam Newton, with 422 in his debut for Carolina in 2011, Robert Griffin III, the Browns’ starter on Sunday who had 320 in his debut for Washington in 2012, and Andrew Luck, who had 309 in his debut in 2012, which included three interceptions.
Mark Sanchez was next, with 272 yards in his debut in 2009, so this win is not exactly a harbinger of great things to come for Wentz. But, still, he looked great and the Eagles are undefeated and headed for the Super Bowl.
(No pressure, kid.)
When asked about that pressure, and the unrealistic expectations the city will thrust upon him after this game — hello sports talk radio on Monday morning — Wentz was pretty even-keeled about it all.
“We’ll see what happens. Obviously, you know it’s kind of all part of it. But at the end of the day, for me, it’s still just about playing football. I’ve got to block out the noise, good and bad, and just get back to work. The goal is to go 1-0 each week.”
So far, so good. Or…pretty great.