- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 25, 2022

LANDOVER — Carson Wentz was one of the last Washington Commanders off the field after Sunday’s 24-8 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, jogging back to the locker room relatively unnoticed. It was a markedly different moment from the hours he’d spent earlier in the afternoon trapped in a dismal spotlight against his former team.

For the Eagles fans who commandeered FedEx Field, Wentz had been the center of attention. Fans booed him just prior to his first snap. They cheered each of the nine — yes, nine — times he was sacked. 

But by the time Wentz exited, the still-sizable contingent of Eagles fans savoring their team’s dominant win had finally become fixated on something else. They were focused on Jalen Hurts, the Eagles quarterback who pumped and waved his arms to the Philadelphia faithful as he said his own goodbyes.

On his way out, Hurts — Wentz’s replacement in Philadelphia — was showered with chants of “M-V-P.” Wentz, Washington’s big offseason acquisition, looked far removed from the days when he regularly heard the same. 

“I have to do better,” Wentz said afterward. 

Sunday wasn’t a loss for the Commanders (1-2) that can be pinned solely on Wentz. No team that gives up nine sacks — Washington’s most since 2011 — can justifiably blame it all on its quarterback. And Washington’s defense, as had been the case through the first two games, is a problem. 

But Wentz’s performance was a familiar sight to the Eagles fans who soured on the signal-caller over the course of his five-year tenure in Philadelphia. Particularly, his play was reminiscent of the 2020 season — Wentz’s final year with the Eagles when he was statistically one of the league’s worst passers. 

That year, Wentz completed just 57.4% of his passes before being benched for Hurts in December. Against the Eagles on Sunday, Wentz went 25 of 43 for 211 yards — good for a 58% completion percentage. 

Even more ominous for Washington fans: The last time Wentz took that many sacks was Week 1 of the 2020 season — when Washington, in coach Ron Rivera’s first year with the team, brought the quarterback down eight times in an upset victory.  

This weekend was even worse: The nine sacks were the most of Wentz’s seven-year career.

“We just seemed constipated,” left tackle Charles Leno said of the offense. “We couldn’t get [expletive] going.” 

As the 2020 season progressed, the Eagles’ staff eventually ran out of patience with Wentz — leading then-coach Doug Pederson to turn to Hurts. But on Sunday, Rivera didn’t seem anywhere close to giving up on his new quarterback. He told reporters he never thought about making a change at the position, even as the offense struggled. 

And Rivera became notably angry when asked about an ESPN story that stated prior to acquiring Wentz, Washington had agreed to trade for San Francisco’s Jimmy Garoppolo until the deal fell apart once the veteran decided to have shoulder surgery. Rivera said he was especially upset over the timing of the piece, which dropped hours before Wentz faced his former team for the first time.

“That was a bullcrap report, OK?” Rivera said. “Just so everybody understands, I didn’t talk to anybody about that. I’m not sure where it all came from.”

Rivera has been protective of Wentz from the moment he sent multiple draft picks to the Indianapolis Colts to acquire him. Asked for an assessment of Wentz’s play Sunday, the coach only said: “Well, I think he could have played better. That’s the truth of the matter.” 

Instead, Rivera harped on other areas that were problems for the Commanders. As in last week’s loss in Detroit, explosive plays were again a major issue for the defense. The unit gave up six plays of at least 20 yards against the Eagles — the same number allowed against the Lions. 

All 24 of the Eagles’ points, too, came in the second quarter. Hurts exploited Washington’s secondary by tossing three touchdowns and repeatedly finding star receivers A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith. The most embarrassing moment of the quarter for Washington was when, with just one second left in the half, Hurts found Smith in the back of the end zone for a touchdown over cornerback Kendall Fuller. 

But Wentz couldn’t help the offense keep pace. The unit was shut out in the first half for a second straight week. And unlike the first two games, there would be no answer, no response. The offense didn’t score until 1:59 left in the game after a 12-play, 87-yard drive. Until then, Washington’s only points were the result of a Daron Payne safety on Hurts near the start of the fourth. 

The bumps, in some ways, were to be expected. Rivera knew the Carson Wentz Experience would be a rollercoaster, joking earlier this month that he’d be prepared by taking antacids to deal with the swings. 

But Sunday’s performance from Wentz, at times, didn’t just look like a dip or a steep drop. The cart seemed as if it was about to come off the track, especially when he finished the first half just 3 of 10 for 24 yards.

“I did not play to my standards at all,” Wentz said. 

Wentz admitted the pre-game atmosphere felt “surreal.” During the coin loss, the quarterback was lined up across from former teammates Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox and Jason Kelce. Around them was a crowd of 64,426 made up of largely Eagles fans who had made the trek down Interstate 95. 

Afterward, Hurts remarked how Sunday “definitely felt like a home game” for the Eagles. Philadelphia’s supporters left happy, with the Eagles (3-0) on top of the NFC East for the moment. 

Wentz understood what that was once like.

“I know the Eagles fans travel well and they showed out and they had a lot to cheer for today because we didn’t play our best ball,” Wentz said. “I didn’t play my best ball. Hats off to them.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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