LANDOVER, Md. — It wasn’t Philadelphia versus Washington, or the Eagles versus the Commanders. It was Carson Wentz against Jalen Hurts. It was the only match that mattered, and it was a heavyweight fight.
Hurts won. In a knockout.
Wenz? He mostly dodged and covered.
The final score was 24-8. The Eagles went 3-0, the Commanders 1-2. But it was more than a score, even the record. It was about revenge.
Hurts finished 22-for-35 and threw for 340 yards and three touchdowns, compiled a 123.5 passer rating, and in a stadium turned green, left to chants of “MVP!”
Wentz, the greatest homegrown villain in Philadelphia sports history, was 25 for 43, threw for 211 mostly empty yards, compiled a 71.0 rating and was sacked nine times, delighting the massive crowd of enemy supporters. They drove the 135 miles on I-95 as much to support the Birds as to mock Ginger Jesus.
“I don’t think my performance was affected by it,” he said erroneously. Wearing a fuchsia sports coat with matching suede Nike Blazers basketball shoes circa 1977 (!), Wentz called the experience surreal: “I know Eagles fans travel well. They showed up and they had a lot to celebrate today.
They also had reason to rejoice. When Wentz led the Commanders onto the field, Eagles fans booing Wentz drowned out the cheering Commanders fans. Surreal, indeed.
The directors barely interacted. Hurts wasn’t a game captain, so he didn’t attend the coin toss, where Wentz shook hands with old friends Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox and Jason Kelce, which he called “surreal”. He swapped shirts with Kelce after the game. He exchanged a post-match hug with Hurts.
It lacked warmth.
This could not have been foreseen. Wentz had played well in his first two games with Washington this season; he shared the league lead with seven touchdown passes and was second with 650 passing yards. But on Sunday at home against the team he had betrayed and around 10,000 hungry Eagles fans, Wentz choked up.
With all eyes on him, facing a motivated opponent, he got choked up.
Wentz fumbled twice and lost one. The bags were almost always his, and he admitted that. He still refuses to throw the ball. He is still unable to progress in his reading. His numbers were worse early on: 9 for 17 for 45 yards on the Commanders’ first nine possessions.
But it wasn’t just about numbers.
It was about doing the right thing or doing the wrong thing. Wentz, in 2020 and 2021, did the wrong thing.
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He left his team in 2020. He forced a trade that cost them their Super Bowl coach and left the Eagles in shambles in 2021.
In the end, Wentz did the Eagles a favor. Hurts has become an excellent quarterback. Wentz has regressed like few QBs in history.
Yet Sunday in Landover was all about revenge; revenge for a city and for a franchise. Wentz’s petulance cost thirty-something veterans like Kelce, Cox, Graham, Lane Johnson and Darius Slay a precious year of their careers.
It was the first chance for the Eagles and Philadelphia to repay Wentz’s unprecedented betrayal. Fans dressed in green were delighted. By halftime, they had taken over the rainy FedEx Field. In the fourth quarter, “Fly, Eagles, Fly” echoed in the stadium.
Consider them fully refunded.
Wentz shone as a rookie and was better in 2017, but injuries, circumstances and his own poor attitude led to regression the following three seasons. He resented the love Nick Foles received for Foles’ playoff success as a substitute, and was, inexplicably, furious when the Eagles drafted Hurts in the second round of the 2020 draft to be a substitute for gadget. The Eagles had given Wentz a $128 million extension before the 2019 season.
Wentz’s meltdown was a slow-motion car accident.
Wentz played horrible football through 12 starts in 2020. He was benched for Hurts, a rookie, midway through Game 12, and not only did he shun for the rest of the season, he also traced his trade request – on the touchline, during the game in which he was benched. He stopped speaking with head coach Doug Pederson midway through the season. He had gone rogue, often calling his own plays. He never backed Hurts before the bench, and he grew distant, even as the Eagles stayed alive in the hunt for the playoffs. He even leaked trade requests for the rest of this season. After the season, he boycotted his exit interview. His distaste for Pederson helped cost the coach his job just three years after Pederson – with Wentz sidelined by injury, as he so often was – won Philadelphia their first Super Bowl .
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But even when new coach Nick Sirianni was hired to replace Pederson, Wentz reiterated his trade demand, preferably in Indianapolis, where former offensive coordinator (and Bible study manager) Frank Reich was the head coach. . The trade left the Eagles with a salary cap of $34 million, the highest in history for a deceased player. The capping prevented the Eagles from adding talent last season.
Nonetheless, they went 9-8 behind Hurts. Wentz started hot for the Colts but fizzled in the end. Finally, unvaccinated, Wentz contracted COVID-19 before the final two games of the season. The Colts lost both games. Wentz was abysmal. The Colts traded him to the Commanders, the NFL’s most dysfunctional franchise.
It fits perfectly.
Hurts played just as well as Wentz played poorly.
He joined DeVonta Smith eight times for 169 yards, the latter the bulk of the sophomore receiver’s brief career. That included a 45-yard bomb, as well as a thrilling 2-yard throw on fourth down that made it 24-0 late in the first half. Hurts hit tight end Grant Calcaterra, a rookie in his NFL debut, with a 40-yard catch-and-run to open the third quarter. He ran nine times for 20 yards – shrewd runs that protected him.
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He showed growth for the third straight game this season. That means everything for a team with Smith, star receiver AJ Brown, well-paid veterans on the defensive side of the ball and the best offensive line in the NFL.
Wentz’s story isn’t entirely written, of course. The teams meet in Philadelphia in Game 9 on November 14, a Monday night football contest, and the prime-time nature of the contest will resurrect all of the points highlighted above.
Given the vagaries of the NFL — players getting injured, benched and traded — there may never be another Hurts against Wentz. Then again, since Wentz plays within the division and is under contract for two more seasons, this could turn into a two-way rivalry.
“He’s a faceless opponent for me,” insisted Hurts.
So far it’s Hurts 1, Faceless Opponent 0.