Carson Wentz is broken.
The Eagles quarterback and leading candidate for NFL MVP has a a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee, head coach Doug Pederson announced Monday. Wentz will miss the remainder of the season. No timetable for surgery has been announced.
Pederson was asked if he thought the team could overcome the loss of Wentz and he was predictably stoic, saying, “heck yeah. We overcame a Pro Bowl left tackle. We overcame our middle linebacker. We’ve overcome our running back. We’ve overcome a core special teams player this year, our kicker this year. This is no different.”
But it is different. We all know that.
Wentz injured his knee while diving into the end zone on a play that was called back due to a penalty Sunday, but stayed in the game for the next few plays, throwing a strike on fourth down to Alshon Jeffery for a touchdown.
Following the drive, Wentz limped off the field and briefly entered the on-field medical tent before walking on his own power into the team’s locker room. Within minutes he was ruled out of the game, and Nick Foles took his place, leading the Eagles to victory, thanks in part to the defense stepping up at exactly the right time.
The Eagles rallied around their fallen quarterback to beat the Rams, win the NFC East division title and stay ahead of the Minnesota Vikings for the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC playoffs. Word broke during the game that team officials feared Wentz had a torn ACL in his left knee, but Pederson would not speculate on the severity of the injury until the team had time for a proper medical evaluation.
The second-year quarterback was in the midst of one of the best seasons in Eagles history. He led the Eagles to 11 wins in 13 games this season, the most wins for the franchise since 2009 and the most in 13 games since 2004. He threw for 3,296 yards in those 13 games, on pace to shatter the single-season record for the Eagles. His 33 touchdown passes — he had four on Sunday — are already the most in franchise history in a single season, passing Sonny Jurgensen who had 32 in 1961.
Wentz completed 65.5 percent of his throws in the red zone, including 23 touchdowns on 58 attempts, with zero interceptions. (He did have one lost fumble.) Wentz’s numbers on third down were at historic levels as well. This season he completed 65.3 percent of his throws on third down, for 1,178 yards, 14 touchdowns and 62 first downs, on 124 attempts. Half the throws Wentz made on third down this season went for first downs or better, and he was only intercepted three times. On third and more than 10 yards, Wentz completed 76.7 percent of his passes, including five touchdowns.
There was little question that Wentz had put himself in a category with Tom Brady on the very short list for most valuable player this season. Now, in his absence, the Eagles will learn truly how valuable he has been.
In Foles, the Eagles have a servicable backup who was once an okay starter in the NFL. He last started for the Rams in 2015, playing in 11 games and completing 56.4 percent of his throws, with seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Last year in Kansas City he started just one game, throwing three touchdowns and no picks over the course of three appearances for Andy Reid. This year, in mop up duty, he hadn’t been asked to do much until he was called upon to lead the comeback Sunday against the Rams.
Over the last two seasons, Foles has thrown only 69 passes, completing 46, with no interceptions. Expect him to hand off a lot.
The Eagles finish the season at the Giants, then home to Oakland and Dallas. Win one of the final three and the Eagles will likely still earn a first-round bye in the playoffs. Win two of those three and they’re guaranteed the bye, and could still earn home field advantage. Win all three and the top seed is theirs.
Then once the playoffs start, anything can happen. Foles has played one game in the postseason in his career, in 2013, when he went 22-for-33 with two touchdowns and no turnovers. The Eagles lost to the Saints that year, a team they very well could be hosting in the playoffs this year. First things first, though, the Eagles have three weeks to figure out an identity with Foles under center. They will surely rely on the run game more than they have this season, and hope the defense steps up like they did at the end of Sunday’s win. But without their MVP, the Eagles are going to need everything they’ve got now.