Carson Wentz is for real. If there was any doubt still left in Wentz’s ability to lead the Eagles after a 3-1 start this season, it’s gone. He is the man. And the Eagles, injuries and all, might be the best team in the NFC East.
Wentz finished the blowout win over the Arizona Cardinals 21-of-30 for 304 yards and four touchdowns, the most in his 21-game NFL career. Carson Palmer, who is watching the clock wind down on his very good NFL career, looked overmatched by the Eagles defense. Wentz, despite missing Wendell Smallwood the entire game and Lane Johnson for half due to a head injury, just keeps getting better and better with time.
“I think in the back of my mind, you hope and you want to be a good football team,” Coach Doug Pederson said after the game. “Everyone aspires to be a good football team, but the way we’re doing it, with the amount of back-up players in these first five weeks, is a testament to the coaching staff and the players in that dressing room and the resiliency they have to never quit.”
As Pederson pats the back-ups on the back, it wouldn’t be possible without the starting quarterback.
But enough words, let’s see some highlights:
Yes, that’s Nelson Agholor, who did have a drop earlier in the game, then caught a huge pass after Wentz went right back to him on the next play. Agholor repaid that trust with a 72-yard bomb, the best play of a day full of highlights.
The second-best play: Surely this strike to Torrey Smith, another receiver who had a lot to prove through the first quarter of the season. Wentz hit Smith for a 59-yard strike to blow the game wide open early. The rest was just stat padding.
“It doesn’t happen if they don’t work at it,” Pederson said of the big plays the Eagles showed in the game. “These guys just work at it every day in practice.”
Not only was the start to Wentz’s afternoon the best of his career, it was historic for the franchise too. https://twitter.com/ESPNStatsInfo/status/917087488405049346
The Eagles had the ball three times in the first quarter and scored on all three drives, with Wentz throwing a touchdown pass on each — to Trey Burton, Zach Ertz and Smith — the first time an Eagles quarterback has ever thrown three touchdown passes in the first quarter of a game. How impressive is that? The Eagles just played their 1,217th game in franchise history.
Wentz has now thrown the ball 177 times this season, on pace for significantly fewer throws than last year. And that’s a good thing, because not only is Wentz becoming more efficient, he’s getting smarter with the football, learning when to run or check to a handoff. And big plays begat big yards, Wentz went over the 300-yard mark for the eighth time in his career Sunday on just 21 completions.
Through five games this season, Wentz has tossed for more than 300 yards three times. He also has 10 touchdown passes to three interceptions — he had a tough pick in the end zone Sunday for his only real mistake — when he finished last season with 16 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. With the pace he’s on, it’s not out of the realm of possibility Wentz can throw 30-plus touchdowns this season.
Wentz was 11-for-12 on third down Sunday. The lone miss was a wide-open throw to Zach Ertz in which the Eagles settled for a field goal. But three of his four touchdown passes came on third down and he’s made a marked improvement over his third-down efficiency last season.
And yet, things can unravel fast.
The Eagles are now 4-1 for the first time since the 2014 and just the third time since 2006. The team finished 10-6 in both of those seasons, missing the playoffs in 2014 and making it in 2006. For now, at least, the Eagles are atop the division and look like real playoff contenders, beating up on Arizona without Fletcher Cox or half their secondary, holding Palmer to just one touchdown all game.
This is a good football team. And it starts under center.