BIG ‘W,’ BIGGER ‘L’ (Chet’s Take, 12-10-17)

Chet Chesko Articles

It was one of the most exciting games of the 2017 NFL season, and when the final gun sounded, it was the Philadelphia Eagles coming away with a wild 43-35 victory over the host Los Angeles Rams — a win that improved the Birds’ record to 11-2 and allowed them to clinch the NFC East.  A big win to be sure, but a game in which the Eagles also suffered a potentially catastrophic loss.

Late in the third quarter, four plays BEFORE star quarterback Carson Wentz threw his fourth touchdown pass of the game to give the Eagles a 31-28 lead, the MVP candidate and the team’s new single-season touchdown-pass record-holder with 33 suffered a left-knee injury that initial reports pointed to a serious ACL problem — an injury that would put an end to the second-year signal-caller’s terrific season. (The fact that Wentz managed to stay in the game for that final series of downs and hit Alshon Jeffery on a 4th-and-goal gamble is a testament to the quarterback’s toughness.)

Wentz exiting L.A. Coliseum after injury

So, what now? Well, a season-ending injury to Wentz means that Nick Foles returns to the role of starting quarterback, a position he held during a large chunk of his first go-round with the Birds. Some people might forget that Foles was 15-9 as a starter with the Eagles. Like Wentz, Foles is an intelligent guy, and he knows the offense, but… as Ray Didinger noted on Eagles Post Game Live on NBC Sports Philadelphia Sunday night: “Wentz can do things that Nick can only dream of doing.”

In Sunday’s win, Foles led the Eagles on two drives that culminated in field goals — the second of which put the Birds ahead 37-35 with 3:45 left in the game. He completed 6-of-10 passes for 42 yards, none bigger than a 3rd-down throw to Nelson Agholor for a 1st down in the final two minutes to keep the ball out of the hands of Jared Goff, Todd Gurley and the explosive Rams offense.

Can the Eagles still make a deep playoff run? The odds of that got a lot longer with the Wentz injury, for sure, but it’s not impossible. Keep in mind that Jim Plunkett, Doug Williams, Jeff Hostetler and Trent Dilfer were all backup quarterbacks the first half of the seasons in which they led their respective teams to Super Bowl titles. Also, three months ago, who the heck thought the Eagles would be 11-2 and division champions at this point? Sometimes there are some pleasant surprises — even in Philadelphia!

Understandably, there will be lots of focus on Nick Foles as he takes the reins, but the real challenge now lies with Doug Pederson. It will be up to the head coach to formulate a game plan to put Foles in the best position to help the Eagles succeed, which will no doubt include a heavier dose of the three-headed running attack (LaGarrette Blount, Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement) and continued heavy use of the tight ends (Zach Ertz, assuming he’s back in action next week,  Trey Burton and Brent Celek). Doug will also need to do something to bolster the left side of the offensive line, which has struggled mightily the last couple of weeks. Any chance Tra Thomas would consider coming out of retirement? Probably not.

Even without Wentz, the Eagles should be considered favorites to earn a Top 2 seed in the NFC and get the first-round playoff bye that comes with that status, but after that it’s tough to predict how it might go. It’s typically a whole different game in January, especially without someone as spectacular as Carson Wentz in the lineup.                            –Jim “Chet” Chesko