PHILADELPHIA — The locker was empty save for three dri-fit t-shirts, a green towel and a play-call sheet folded up like an accordion on the edge of a shelf. Carson Wentz wasn’t around to shake hands with his teammates or say goodbye to his 2019 Eagles teammates; veteran backup QB Josh McCown, having played three quarters of their 17-9 wild-card loss to the Seahawks, served as his limping emissary.
If anything summed up the macabre sense of humor with which the football world saw the Eagles this season, it was the feelings of emptiness and physical pain surrounding that vacant stall. Nearly every player on this Philadelphia team had some kind of condition more extreme than the typical late-season aches and pains. They were almost completely unrecognizable to themselves from 17 weeks ago, but still punched its way into the postseason on the shoulders of Wentz, their quarterback who missed each of Philadelphia’s last two playoff runs with gutting, late-season injuries.
But the injuries kept coming. The Eagles, already without RT Lane Johnson (ankle) and WR Nelson Agholor (knee), lost Brandon Graham early in the game to a knee injury—a tough blow to an already-thin defense.
And then, Wentz was gone too.
With a little more than nine minutes to go in the first quarter, he scrambled ahead to stretch out a play and dove toward the ground. Seahawks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney hit him from behind. The collision pinballed Wentz’s helmet into the grass, triggering an examination under the temporary blue medical tent and, later, a long walk to the examination room inside the stadium.
Left tackle Jason Peters confronted Clowney on the field and told him the hit was dirty. In the offensive linemen’s retelling, Clowney was somewhat remorseful, and he said he expected death threats from the same fans who attacked him a year ago as a member of the Texans when, in Week 16, he knocked Nick Foles out of a critical late-season matchup.
“But then we just had to lock back in,” Peters said. “Listen to what Josh was doing.”
“I just feel badly for Carson. I wanted him in there. He wanted to be in there. To go out like that? I mean, he was hot. Anything could have happened out there on the field.”
In the big picture, this season will fit neatly into the narrative the Eagles have fashioned for themselves under the current regime of head coach Doug Pederson and GM Howie Roseman. Even during moments of schematic flatness or amid an unreasonable rash of injuries, this team always seemed to be good enough to matter and dangerous enough to matter. The loss to Seattle was simply an indication of their breaking point—how counterweighted by unfortunate circumstances one team can become before they finally give in.
“We didn’t get to where we wanted, but we damn sure gave ourselves a chance,” Malcolm Jenkins said.
A few lockers down from Wentz’s, Zach Ertz stood fighting back tears and described an inability to get out of bed after the Eagles’ Week 16 win over the Cowboys. The night of the game he had blood in his urine and had to be rushed to the hospital, where he learned he lacerated his kidney and had a pair of non-displaced fractures in his ribs.
He said that doctors told him he was a “remarkable” healer, perhaps as a way to combat the scores of people who were surprised he was medically cleared at all. He wrapped himself up in bulky bandages and padding in the hopes that Seattle would treat him as a No. 1 wide receiver despite the fact that he had trouble moving around or dealing with the pain. He said he prayed for the doctors to be unanimous in their medical evaluations so that there would be no emotions involved in his decision to take the field.
“I wanted to play for this city,” Ertz said. “I take a lot of pride in playing for my teammates. I knew if there was a chance I could go and I didn’t play, I wouldn’t be able to look my teammates in the eyes knowing I could have helped them out.
“Obviously the season didn’t end the way we wanted but I’m proud of what we’ve overcome. This team showed a lot of fight.”
After their Super Bowl run in 2017, the Eagles began adding pieces and extending core assets methodically. Almost all of their best players stretched through their athletic primes together. If the collective football world was to believe in the idea of a dynasty again after the Patriots had faded out, maybe they were the heirs. Maybe it was Wentz and Ertz and all the other stars who still hadn’t hit their 30th birthday.
Maybe it’s easy to say the time that passed since was disappointing; that they didn’t edge past the wild-card round in each of the next two seasons or manage to recapture that organic, brash carelessness that carried them to their first title. But maybe there is something to be said for how long they managed to remain standing after the universe dealt them the ridiculous hand they found themselves playing on Sunday (let’s not forget how a wide receiver started throwing warmup passes during the game in case the Eagles needed to call on him as their emergency quarterback), when all that seemed to be left in the locker room was one important—yet vacant—locker after another.
Question or comment? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.