Carson Wentz is a lot of things, but clutch ain’t one. At least not through 13 games in his career.
Look, the term ‘clutch’ is overused in sports, let’s grant that, but in the context of an NFL quarterback, the data behind the term is actually pretty important. When games are close and late, and your team is losing, can you deliver the win?
So far in his nascent NFL career, Wentz cannot.
The Eagles lost again on Sunday with the ball in Wentz’s hands and his team down by less than a touchdown. This was the fifth loss within one score this season and the fifth time the Eagles had the ball with a chance to take the lead or win late, failing to get the job done.
Not all of this is Wentz’s fault, surely. In Sunday’s loss, the makeshift offensive line failed to protect him much at all on the last few plays, and Ryan Kerrigan’s strip sack to end the game was clearly a protection breakdown, not Wentz’s fault. Doug Pederson said after the game he thought, given the adversity he faced, Wentz played his best game of the season. It’s hard to disagree, given he was 32-for-46 for 314 yards and a touchdown.
“We lost,” Wentz said in response to hearing Pederson’s comments. “That’s what really matters. We lost. We didn’t finish at the end. Kind of like when we played them last time, we had a chance to finish the game and win it on offense and we didn’t do that, and that’s really all that matters.”
Wentz did have a chance to win it late. He also had a bad interception in the end zone early, stripping the Eagles of at least three and potentially seven points in the red zone. Wentz said he and Zach Ertz weren’t on the same page on the play, which is probably a polite way of saying someone screwed up and maybe it wasn’t him.
It’s important to note, everyone is still high on Wentz. The team loves him. His coach loves him. National and local scouts and pundits love him. He will get better as his career goes on, but right now, it’s just not there.
“It’s tough. It’s tough,” Wentz said. “You know, obviously in games like this, you think of those couple of plays. Those couple of plays, had they gone differently, the outcome could have been different. We’ve had a lot of games like that this season and it’s frustrating but at the same time we need to keep learning from it and growing as a team.
“Without a doubt, when you lose at the end like that, especially when you’re on the field, as an offense it’s frustrating.”
In November’s 28-23 loss to the Giants, Wentz was gifted a short field with the game on the line and was unable to complete a pass, let a lone a score, on four tries from the New York 17-yard line.
In Dallas, the Eagles punted three times on their final three drives, without gaining so much as a first down on the last two, eventually losing in overtime.
The last time the Eagles played Washington they had the ball with a minute to play in Washington territory down by seven and Wentz held onto the ball and was sacked, twice, forcing the inexplicable punt on fourth-and-24 with under two minutes to play and only two timeouts left.
It’s hard to blame the loss to Detroit on Wentz’s lack of clutchness, given the Birds had the lead and the ball with less than three minutes to play before Ryan Mathews fumbled the game away. Still, after Detroit kicked a field goal with a minute and a half to go to take the late lead, Wentz got another chance, needing to go 45 yards in 1:29.
His first pass was intercepted.
There has been a lot contributing to the Eagles losses this year. Lane Johnson’s suspension should not be swept aside, as his absence — and the distraction his suspension ordeal caused — has clearly impacted the offensive line. It’s also important to remember the utter lack of talent on the offensive side of the ball. Plus all the drops. Wentz’s receivers have disappeared on him a lot this season. And, still, with all that, it was the defense that let the Eagles down as much as the offense at Dallas, totally imploding at the end of regulation and in overtime.
Whatever the reasons, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the Eagles are 5-3 in games decided by nine or more points and 0-5 in games decided by one score. Maybe it’s not just that Wentz isn’t clutch. The whole Eagles team isn’t clutch.
Wentz does have one fourth-quarter comeback to his credit this season, in the nine-point win over Atlanta, orchestrating a 76-yard scoring drive after the Eagles gave up the lead in the final stanza. The Birds also tacked on a field goal later, but that came after a turnover on downs and three run plays to seal the game.
All this is something of a hedge, yes, that Wentz’s lack of clutchness isn’t his fault. As narratives in sports being what they are, 13 games — and just five close-and-late games — is still too small of a sample size to label him “unclutch”, but the rookie’s numbers in these situations are not helping his case.
Wentz has a 55.0 completion percentage when the Eagles are trailing with less than four minutes to play, a rate that plummets to 42.9 with less than two minutes to go.
His quarterback rating in the fourth quarter is 70.7, and his completion percentage is 60.8, more than seven percent and 30 ratings points lower than in the third quarter.
In the red zone, Wentz is 37-for-70, a 52.9 completion percentage. He does have 11 touchdown passes to just one interception, which came on Sunday, but his yards per attempt in the red zone is just 3.3.
We can make the numbers say whatever we want, let’s admit. Wentz has thrown eight of his nine interceptions when the team is trailing. He’s not clutch! But he’s got a higher completion percentage and more touchdown passes in the second half than in the first. He’s (kinda) clutch!
Take all this information for what it is: a window into what Wentz is 13 games into his rookie season, with very little bearing on the future.
He is not clutch right now, but that does not mean he can’t learn from his late-game failures this year and turn that around in the future. Troy Aikman and John Elway were not late-game gurus when their careers began. It may take time. Or it may never happen at all, but as the Eagles start to officially build toward next year, figuring out how to close out games will change fortunes, and make or break careers.