LANDOVER, Md. — Speaking to the media after a 27–20 loss to Washington, the worst game of his nascent career, Philadelphia QB Carson Wentz had every opportunity to spread the blame around. His offense, which managed just six points, had been outscored by the team’s defense (seven points) and special teams units (seven points), but he was far from the only ineffectual Eagle, though you might have guessed otherwise given his answers.
On the near-constant pressure he faced, including five sacks, two of which killed Philly’s final drive, Wentz said, "I should've made the right protection call and could’ve gotten the ball out in time.”
In regards to the previous possession, which stalled in the red zone when tight end Zach Ertz let a slant slip through his hands, "I threw it high on him and made it hard," Wentz said. "If I get it down and put it on his chest, it's a walk-in touchdown."
The defense did Wentz no favors either, surrendering 21 first-half points. But of course he wasn’t going to mention that. "Any time the offense has the chance to win at the end of the game and you come up short, it's frustrating," Wentz said. "I put that on myself."
September's gleeful press conferences—which came while Wentz piled up Rookie of the Week honors, in between earning comparisons to Peyton Manning and compliments from Brett Favre—felt like a fever dream. Now he was handling defeat like a vet. But as was the case last week in Detroit, Philadelphia’s struggles stretched far beyond its signal-caller.
Wentz faced challenges from the first snap of the game Sunday, when Ryan Kerrigan yanked him down for a sack, shredding Wentz's jersey in the process. A new shirt didn't solve his problems, as rookie right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who debuted this week in place of suspended Lane Johnson, consistently struggled to contain Kerrigan on the edge.
And when Wentz did appear to get going in the second half, a penalty negated what would have been a 38-yard pass play during which the QB evaded pressure and found Dorial Green-Beckham. Philadelphia finished with 13 infractions—hitting double digits for a third straight game. Despite playing one fewer contest than most other teams, the Eagles rank fourth with 49. "It's frustrating as heck, honestly," Ertz said of the penalties. "It's killing us."
Despite all of that, Wentz still seemed capable of pulling off a comeback when he connected with Green-Beckham and Ertz on consecutive deep throws with eight minutes to play. But then Ertz had a red-zone drop, Wentz was sacked twice on the following possession and Matt Jones found daylight on a 25-yard run that allowed the Redskins to kill the game's final 90 seconds. Washington finished with more than twice as many yards (including 230 on the ground) and first downs as its visitors.
Today, the Eagles wake up in third place in a surprisingly tough division (the only other division boasting three winning clubs is the AFC West), with games against Minnesota, Dallas, Atlanta and Seattle looming over the next five weeks. Following two straight losses, Philly’s chances of making the playoffs according to FiveThirtyEight’s model have fallen from 67% to 36%. Comparing the current circumstances to where the then-undefeated Eagles sat after three games, atop Football Outsiders' DVOA rankings and in the top five on both sides of the ball, one could think the team was Space Jam'd during its Week 4 bye—that its mojo was stolen and someone just needed to find it. That there's a quick fix. But no. There’s “no magic pixie dust," receiver Jordan Matthews says. The real issue is certainly more serious.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson hinted at one possibility after the game, mentioning that opponents have film on the first-year coach and his rookie quarterback by this point. Other coordinators can now learn their tendencies and pinpoint their flaws. Yet the answer could be more discouraging still. Maybe it's not that the league is figuring out who the Eagles are, but rather that Philadelphia is finally showing its true colors. Before Wentz got up to offer the media his home-cooked humble pie, Pederson took the mic to remind everyone that his quarterback is still learning, still growing. “He’s still a rookie.” The writers in attendance and fans back home might have needed that reminder a month ago. But after these two losses, it felt obvious.
That’s not a reason for the Philly faithful to fret, though—in fact it’s probably for the better. After being shown a glimpse of the potential future, the city now gets to come to terms with the fact that getting there requires a journey. Even if Wentz criticizes himself as if he’s an all-pro, he’s better off being judged with optimism rather than expectation. A couple come-back-to-Earth performances have helped ensure that’s the case. Just look at the questions he was asked Sunday, each seemingly hunting for the faults around him. On his way out, one scribe even gave Wentz a chance to blame the sun.
The first month of the season offered a chance to fall madly in love. Now the fan base needs to settle in for the long haul. Philadelphia seems destined for the rebuild it forecasted when Sam Bradford was shipped off for a draft pick. The No. 2 overall pick looks more like what we expected: a project, not a prophet. We should’ve known. Wentzylvania won’t be built in a day. September was doomed to end.