PHILADELPHIA – Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz has stared into the abyss, walked right up to the edge and looked down. It would have been easy to fall in or, even worse, allow Nick Foles to push him into the inky darkness, vanishing forever into oblivion.
Philly was Foles’ town. He was and always will be the quarterback who stepped into Wentz’s shoes in 2017 and won a Super Bowl, becoming the Super Bowl MVP in the process. Wentz was having an MVP season himself but had to watch helplessly from the sidelines as his backup led a franchise to glory.
As happy as he was for his friend Foles' success, Wentz admitted that it was human nature to feel a twinge of jealousy to not be that guy.
He talked during offseasons past about how challenging it was to come to grips with stumbling hard and fast off the top of the mountain to the very bottom, about the frustrating days of rehab required after that ill-fated December day in Los Angeles in a game that left him with two torn ligaments in his knee.
Then it happened again, and Foles stepped in last year when Wentz once again fell victim to injury, this time a stress fracture in his back.
Foles sparked three late-season wins to push the Eagles from 6-7 to 9-7 and into the postseason. Foles’ teammates constructed a locker room shrine of sorts, with candles being lit for their backup quarterback.
Meanwhile, anonymous sources took shots at Wentz at the end of 2018. More anonymous sources sprouted up this year when the Eagles struggled.
If there is any such thing as NFL justice, it is being served now.
“I’m just grateful,” said Wentz following the Eagles’ NFC East-clinching win over the New York Giants on Sunday. “Grateful for my health, grateful to be out here with the guys in these big meaningful games. Grateful to be playing into January … Hopefully we can do something special.”
It’s already been special considering what Wentz has been able to accomplish, leading a band of no-name skill players to four straight wins when any loss along the way could’ve ended their season, to the NFC East title and into the playoffs.
It is the first time in Wentz's career that he will play a January playoff game.
Wentz, who just turned 27 on Monday, completed a healthy season, all 16 games. By staying available for every game, he was able to put up numbers never seen by a quarterback in Eagles or NFL history.
He became the first Eagles quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards in a single season, dating back to the time the Eagles were founded in 1933. Factor in that he did that without a wide receiver who had more than 500 yards and, well, that’s a first in NFL history.
Wentz ended the regular season with 27 touchdowns and just seven interceptions to join a select group of quarterbacks who have thrown the ball 600 times or more and had ended the season with just seven or fewer interceptions. The other three are Tom Brady in 2015, Aaron Rodgers in 2016, and Matt Ryan in 2018.
He is also the first Eagles quarterback to throw a touchdown pass in all 16 regular season games and finished with 4,039 yards passing. He completed 63.9 percent of his throws (388-for-607) and a passer rating of 93.1.
The irony of it is that Wentz has stayed healthy but just about nobody else has. The injury outbreak that has since sent 13 players to injured reserve didn’t stop Wentz or the Eagles.
“You’ve seen it here the last couple of games how he’s really just put the team on his back and said, ‘Hey, follow me,’ and I think that’s a sign of growth and a sign of maturity,” said coach Doug Pederson.
“I spent eight years in Green Bay with Brett Favre and that’s what Brett did. Brett just put the team on his back when the chips were against us and he said, ‘Hey, follow me,’ and that’s what Carson can do.”
The numbers are staggering, but nothing compared to the resolve, determination and perseverance Wentz has shown in escaping the long shadow cast by Foles.
“I can’t say it enough, I’m grateful to be healthy,” said Wentz. “I think the last few years they give you time to reflect and think about this.
"There’s moments like this that I definitely don’t take for granted, that I’m very grateful to be out there with my guys. We’re playing in January and I’m very thankful for that.”