Let’s get this out of the way right now: The Eagles needed to lose.
This team was never going to go 15-1. It just wasn’t realistic … despite a rumor that this writer may have mumbled something on the Jabroni airwaves about the Eagles never losing a game for the rest of 2017. To that end, it didn’t happen unless you can track down the audio.
During Sunday night’s reality-inducing 24-10 loss in Seattle, NBC commentator Cris Collinsworth repeatedly made the point that the game had a playoff feel to it. Considering that Carson Wentz has never been to the postseason, it would be the second-year quarterback’s first real test – in a contest the Eagles were favored in, and against a Seahawks team that perennially contends for Super Bowls.
On Sunday night’s opening drive, Seattle marched down the field with ease and put three points on the board. The tone was set the moment that kick left Blair Walsh’s foot. To be fair, the Eagles looked sloppy and unprepared – you can blame Doug Pederson – and squandered numerous opportunities. The head coach showed his true colors and Wentz left 21 points on the field, including a fumble on the goal line and two misfires on would-be touchdowns.
But this was a game the Eagles needed to lose. A defeat to a Super Bowl champion like Russell Wilson will only make them stronger, more equipped to deal with the tigers waiting for them at the gates, battle-tested barbarians like Drew Brees, Cam Newton, Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers could all be lurking in the playoffs. Of course, the one name that I am intentionally leaving out is Jared Goff.
Let’s dispel one myth right now: Goff is NOT Carson Wentz. Yes, I understand Goff is having a nice sophomore season statistically – he ranks in the top-10 in both passing yards and passing touchdowns, arguably a dark horse MVP candidate. Goff shouldn’t be mentioned in the same breath as Wentz.
The two are friends and were selected No. 1 and No. 2 in the 2016 NFL draft. That’s where the similarities end. Wentz is cerebral and athletic, combining Peyton Manning’s ability to diagnose plays and move traffic at the line of scrimmage with Ben Roethlisberger’s toughness and mobility.
And Goff? Well, he reminds me of Nick Foles, the noodle-armed statue that led the Eagles to the postseason in 2013. Both quarterbacks have God-given talent and the potential to be successful, but they need the right system — and the right coach — to hide their flaws. Vice versa, Wentz is a once-in-a-lifetime prodigy that hides the flaws of his whimsical head coach.
“He studies the heck out of the film, he dissects it himself, he understands, he puts himself in that situation before he even gets there. I think the coaches understand that,” Zach Ertz told the Inquirer earlier this year. “They understand how involved and invested he is in that process. If I was a coach, I’d trust him wholeheartedly, too.”
The Rams have come under fire after a recent NFL Films feature showed Goff calling audibles at the line of scrimmage as he received specific instructions from head coach Sean McVay through the headset. Some critics are saying this is legalized cheating and are crying for the NFL to amend the rules.
“I don’t like. I think it’s unethical,” said former NFL quarterback Chris Simms. “I don’t really get it. It’s what makes Tom Brady so great, so now we are going to take field generalship and the ability to stay calm and cool at the line of scrimmage in pressure situations, and the coach can go, ‘OK, relax now. They might bring the free safety blitz. Let’s change the play and get something else … No, that’s not football.’”
Simms has a point. Look, every quarterback in the league is permitted to talk to their coach until there are 15 seconds remaining on the play clock – even the great Bill Belichick can chirp in Brady’s ear that long. I’m sure Pederson offers sage advice to Wentz as well. However, Goff’s magical turnaround smells more rotten than Denmark. His train wreck of a rookie year rivaled Terrelle Pryor’s disastrous 2013, a campaign stinking so bad that Pryor was converted to a wide receiver.
Last week, in that frustratingly painful loss to the Seahawks, Wentz struggled with his audibles. Ginger Jesus looked human. One major reason why is that he couldn’t hear, stifled by Seattle’s 12th man. In Los Angeles, that shouldn’t be an issue. In fact, the Rams have been reportedly practicing silent counts, to combat the noise from invading Eagles fans in their own stadium. FOX Sports took it a step further and posted a casting call asking for Rams fans to take part in their pregame show.
When the Eagles and Rams take the field this Sunday afternoon, all the talking heads will be billing it as the Goff-Wentz Showdown, a preview of the NFC Championship Game. Don’t buy into the hype. The Eagles are still very much the best team in the NFC, with the best quarterback in the conference.
Wentz was taught a valuable lesson in Seattle. He learned how to play in a meaningful game, and now he’ll apply that lesson to Goff and the Rams. Make no mistake about it, getting to the first round of the playoffs is no longer acceptable. That may have been true in August, before the Giants thought offensive lines were optional and before the Cowboys lost their best offensive weapon for six games.
The landscape has changed drastically since the 2016 draft. So has Wentz, and so have expectations.