Carson Wentz’s three adorable golden retrievers—Mama Henley, Jersey, and Riggs—love him unconditionally. The same is not true for Eagles fans. Wentz was likely reminded of that as he passed the statue of Nick Foles outside Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday night. The Eagles got their rematch against the Patriots on Sunday, but unfortunately for everyone from the Philadelphia diaspora, the game was the polar opposite of Philly’s 41-33 victory in Super Bowl LII. The Patriots beat the Eagles 17-10 as the teams combined for 553 total yards, fewer than the Patriots alone had in that Super Bowl. Instead of one punt, the two teams combined for 16. But the most jarring difference for Philly fans was their quarterback being the primary reason the team lost.
Wentz completed 20 of his 40 pass attempts for 214 yards (5.4 yards per pass), one touchdown, and no interceptions. He was sacked five times on Sunday, with all coming after right tackle Lane Johnson left to be evaluated for a head injury. The Eagles struggled without Johnson: After scoring a touchdown to go up 10-0 early in the second quarter, the Eagles gained a total of 21 yards on their next six drives combined and did not score the rest of the game. After six consecutive punts, Wentz’s big opportunity came at the end of the game. With the Patriots up 17-10, New England pinned the Eagles 94 yards from the end zone with just over four minutes to play. Wentz quickly completed three first downs to get the Eagles to the New England 45-yard line at the two-minute warning. The break seemed to give the Patriots defense time to game plan how it wanted to attack the Eagles, but that plan worked only because Wentz missed some crucial throws at the end. Those misses overshadowed a drive that had more yardage (68) than Philly’s previous five series. Wentz skipped a pass to an open Nelson Agholor; overthrew open tight end Zach Ertz, who beat cornerback Stephon Gilmore in coverage; and set up a fourth-and-10 with the game essentially on the line. On their last real play (not counting a three-play drive that ended with a failed Hail Mary to end the game), Wentz put the ball in Agholor’s hands in the end zone for a difficult catch that Agholor dropped.
Nelson Agholor is the most toxic relationship I’ve ever been in. pic.twitter.com/3vinWgNWQA— Victor Williams (@ThePhillyPod) November 18, 2019
Most receivers would be forgiven for not reeling it in, but the Eagles receivers have the second-most drops in football, and Agholor has already become a meme for not catching a game-changing touchdown once this season. Agholor wouldn’t have been in position to make such a difficult grab had Wentz made one of the open throws earlier in the game.
Lane Johnson’s injury wasn’t the only one affecting the Eagles on Sunday. DeSean Jackson’s abdominal injury has left Philadelphia without a deep vertical threat to stretch defenses and open up horizontal seams for Zach Ertz and the rest of the Eagles pass-catchers. Torrey Smith filled that role in 2017, but he was never truly replaced last year and it showed. This year, Jackson’s absence has left the Eagles unable to create explosive plays, and it was particularly acute on third down against New England. Philadelphia entered the week with the league’s most third-down conversions while the Patriots had allowed the fewest. New England won that battle: The Eagles converted just three of 13 third-down attempts, or 23 percent, less than half of their 48 percent rate entering the game. That was also a stark reversal from Super Bowl LII, when the Eagles converted 10 of 16 third-down conversions.
The Patriots defense isn’t like two years ago either. In 2017 the Patriots had the second-least efficient defense in football per Football Outsiders. Through 10 weeks this year, they had been the most efficient. Bill Belichick, his son Steve, and assistant Jerod Mayo have morphed the unit into a nightmare to face. Cornerback Malcolm Butler may not be on this team, but defensive lineman Adam Butler sacked Wentz and batted down one of his passes. Linebacker Jamie Collins, who wasn’t on the team in 2017, has helped make the Pats linebackers elite. There is little shame in any offense not being able to score against the Patriots defense. The flip side to that is there’s a lot of glory in beating them, and the Eagles failed to do so not because the Pats were invincible, but because they didn’t capitalize when the Patriots made mistakes—and capitalizing on New England’s defensive mistakes is all the Eagles did the last time these teams played.
Coming up short wouldn’t be so noticeable if not for the last two years of magical play under Nick Foles. After taking over for Wentz in 2017, the backup quarterback led the Eagles on their Super Bowl run despite a litany of injuries, including left tackle Jason Peters. Last year, Foles’s sorcery took the Eagles to a 3-0 finish in the regular season to make the playoffs and then a win over the Bears in the wild-card round. This offseason the Eagles had little choice but to let him leave in free agency to Jacksonville. (Though the Jaguars lost 33-13 in Foles’s first start since breaking his left clavicle in Week 1.) The Eagles signed Wentz to a deal that pays $103 million over the next four years, relatively team friendly by quarterback standards, and executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman was unequivocal about Wentz’s importance.
“We think in Philadelphia that we go as [Carson Wentz] goes,” Roseman told SiriusXM NFL Radio in May. That was true on Sunday. It will be true the rest of the season, which could go great if the Eagles can win the NFC East with a strong stretch run. Wentz is an excellent quarterback, but he will always be (quietly) measured against the impossible standard of someone who has a statue outside the stadium. Foles took the city to new heights metaphorically. It was the city’s first Super Bowl win. He also took them to new heights literally—remember all those fans who climbed those lamp posts? They might be learning a tough lesson: What goes up must come down.