That Carson Wentz will be starting the first playoff game of his career Sunday is merely a technicality. The fourth-year player has quarterbacked the Eagles to victories in elimination games in each of the previous two weeks.
He and the Eagles know what it takes to win them and already have proved it during a four-game winning streak to close out the regular season and lift them from 5-7 to 9-7 and the NFC East crown.
“We’ve kind of felt that way the last few weeks,” Wentz said Wednesday. “We’ve kind of had our backs against the wall, and it’s a one-game season.”
However, beating division rivals who finished with a combined record of 15-33 is a little different than facing the Seattle Seahawks (11-5), who have never lost to the Eagles with Russell Wilson at quarterback or Pete Carroll as coach.
They will return to Philadelphia Sunday to meet the Eagles in the wild-card round of the NFC playoffs.
Their last meeting was Nov. 24, when two interceptions and three lost fumbles were the difference, according to Wentz, in a 17-9 Seattle victory.
“We’re obviously focused on the here and now,” Wentz said, “and this year we just didn’t score many points because we turned the ball over. Those are things that, I mean, it’s going to be the echo of the week: Take care of the football.”
Nevertheless, the Eagles clearly are stepping up in class for this week’s elimination game, which Wentz insists they won’t treat any differently.
“I wouldn’t say anything changes going into this one,” Wentz said. “Offensively, we know what we have to do. We have to take care of the football, we have to stay on the field and we have to put some points on the board.”
Maybe that’s for the best, because what they’ve been doing for the last month has worked fine. Despite losing offensive pieces every week — right guard Brandon Brooks was the latest to go after suffering a season-ending shoulder separation Sunday — the offense has not only survived but thrived.
This, despite Wentz’s average of 6.7 yards per attempt, his lowest since his rookie season of 2016.
Still, Wentz Sunday became the first Eagles quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards in a season and the first in NFL history to eclipse 4,000 yards without having any wide receivers reach 500.
Seems the more adversity he and the offense faces, the better they get. The Eagles are averaging just 5.2 yards per play, which is 27th in the league, but they’ve averaged 28.4 points in the five games they’ve played since scoring a season-low nine against Seattle.
Part of it is because coach Doug Pederson has slowed the game down for his young player by speeding it up.
Wentz has had tremendous success running the no-huddle offense in recent weeks.
“I think regardless who’s out there — young guys, old guys — doesn’t matter,” Wentz said. “Just tempo. You know, we’re just playing, and I think defenses might sometimes feel like they’re on their heels. Keep it simple and those types of things and guys kind of feed off that energy, you know, that idea of ‘hey we’re going fast we’re playing fast.’ “ Sunday, the most important thing will be to play with poise as well.
Wentz isn’t the only one who’ll be in a playoff game for the first time. Receivers Robert Davis, Greg Ward, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and Deontay Burnett also are new to the playoffs. So are running backs Miles Sanders and Elijah Holyfield and tight end Josh Perkins.
Running back Boston Scott, who was returner for the Eagles in the playoffs last year, also will see first action with the offense in the postseason.
“I think the biggest thing, and this is something that I’ll keep addressing the team this week, is we have so many young guys that haven’t been in these games and the emotions run high,” Pederson said. “The atmosphere is different, right? You have preseason, regular season, postseason, and everything gets sort of magnified now. Just keeping the emotions in check and just calming your nerves a little bit, especially early in the game.
“I think that is where the tempo stuff can help, especially these last few games going tempo early. I think in games like this, especially in Carson’s case, being able to get him to settle into the game and try keep the emotions the best we can. Everybody is going to be excited. Seattle is going to be excited. It’s a great opportunity for both teams. But how we handle that I think during the week helps us, especially in games like this.”