Wentz leaves with knee injury, sets record as Eagles clinch playoff spot
LOS ANGELES - Carson Wentz stood at the door of the Eagles locker room after the game, a black brace covering his left knee, congratulating his teammates for holding on to beat the Rams without him.
The players were ecstatic for coming back to beat the Rams 43-35 on Sunday, overcoming a four-point deficit in the fourth quarter with Nick Foles at quarterback. In the process, the Eagles (11-2) clinched the NFC East, and moved back into the top spot in the NFC after the Vikings lost.
But the celebration was quickly replaced by worry after Wentz suffered what is widely being speculated as a torn ACL that will end his season. Eagles coach Doug Pederson wouldn't confirm that, saying that Wentz will have an MRI on Monday.
Many players, however, were talking after the game like Wentz won't return any time soon.
"I mean, he’s everything to us," Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham said. "Any time you lose a quarterback, especially a quarterback of Carson’s caliber ... We know what he means to our team.
"It’s definitely a hurting feeling for us. We just have to figure out a way to get through it, man."
It was believed that Wentz suffered the injury on his 2-yard dive into the end zone with about four minutes left in the third quarter. That play was called back because of a holding penalty on Lane Johnson.
Wentz, however, never said a word as he went back to the huddle. In fact, he stayed in for three more plays, culminating on a 4th-and-2 pass to Alshon Jeffery in the end zone with 2:20 left in the third.
NFC East Champs! So proud of the resiliency of this team. Such a special group of men.— Carson Wentz (@cj_wentz) December 11, 2017
And I greatly appreciate all the prayers! I know my God is a powerful one with a perfect plan. Time to just lean in to him and trust whatever the circumstances! #Proverbs3:5-6
That might very well be the signature play of Wentz's toughness in a season filled with them.
On that play, Wentz stood straight up on his left knee and didn't even try to run as the pocket was collapsing around him. Somehow, he threaded a soft pass into double coverage that Jeffery appeared to catch against his thigh.
"[Expletive], he made a hell of a throw on the touchdown," Jeffery said. "I thought the ball was actually going to [Nelson Agholor]. It was in my catch radius, so I just made a hell of a catch."
That gave the Eagles a 31-28 lead heading into the fourth quarter. But Wentz walked off into the blue medical tent on the sideline. A few minutes later, he walked slowly into the locker room with a towel over his head.
"Carson’s a beast," Eagles receiver Torrey Smith said. "We’re concerned about him ... When a guy like that goes in [the locker room], we know how tough he is and that he would fight through anything."
The Eagles had to fight without him against the Rams' high-powered offense in a game that was originally billed as a showdown between Wentz and Rams quarterback Jared Goff, the first two picks in the 2016 draft.
And neither quarterback disappointed. Wentz finished 23 of 41 for 291 yards, with four touchdown passes and an interception. His last TD pass, to Jeffery, broke the Eagles' single-season record for TD passes, which was set by Sonny Jurgensen in 1961.
The Eagles had to depend on Foles, who came in after the Rams retook the lead 35-31 on Todd Gurley's 1-yard run with 13:58 left in the fourth quarter.
Foles led the Eagles to a field goal on his first drive, pulling the Eagles to within a point.
Then defensive end Chris Long sacked Goff and forced a fumble that Rodney McLeod recovered at the Rams' 25. Several plays later, Jake Elliott kicked a 33-yard field goal and the Eagles were back in front 37-35 with 3:45 remaining.
After a Rams' punt, Foles managed to run out just about the rest of the clock, helped by a gutsy 9-yard pass on 3rd-and-8 pass to Agholor with 1:52 left. That gave the Eagles a first down and enabled them to drain the clock down to 7 seconds before punting.
Brandon Graham picked off a pitch attempt on the Rams' last-chance lateral and returned it for a touchdown to finish the scoring.
It was apparent that this was going to be a shootout right from the start. After scoring three straight touchdowns to take a 21-7 lead in the second quarter, the Eagles missed some chances to put the Rams away.
Bradham dropped an interception at the goal line that he could have easily returned 100 yards for a TD. The Rams scored on the next play to make it 21-14. The Eagles got a field goal just before halftime for a 10-point lead. But the Rams scored on the opening drive of the second half to pull within three.
The Eagles went three-and-out on the next possession. But Donnie Jones' punt was blocked by Michael Thomas and picked up by former Eagle Blake Countess, who returned it for a TD.
Just like that, the Rams were back in front.
Soon after, Wentz's season likely ended. But there he was, at the entrance to the locker room, congratulating his teammates for winning a tough game without him and guaranteeing the Eagles their first playoff spot since 2013.
"You see his leadership, man, no matter what," Bradham said. "He’s still going to be the leader of our team. I mean, he might not be out there, but he’s definitely going to be out there in spirit, and mentally."
Bradham was asked what he said to Wentz in return as he entered the locker room.
"We had to get it done for you," Bradham said. "That’s what I said to him as soon as I walked in. We had to get it done and close it out for him."
They did. But now the question is, can they keep doing it?
It seemed like the Rams couldn't stop Eagles running back Jay Ajayi.
Ajayi had just four carries in the first half, but for 49 yards. Clement had four carries for 14 yards in the first half, and LeGarrette Blount had six carries for 10 yards.
Ajayi, however, was the workhorse in the second half, finishing with 78 yards on 15 carries.
TDs for TEs (without Ertz)
The Eagles announced before the game that tight end Zach Ertz wouldn't play Sunday because of a concussion suffered last Sunday. That didn't seem to stop the Eagles as tight ends Brent Celek and Trey Burton (two touchdowns) accounted for all three touchdowns in the first half.
Celek caught a 5-yard TD in the first quarter, while Burton's touchdowns were from 20 yards and 13 yards, respectively.
Left guard shuffle
The Eagles used three left guards on Sunday. Stefen Wisniewski left the game in the second quarter with an ankle injury and didn't return. Chance Warmack replaced him for the rest of the first half, but he was ineffective.
Isaac Seumalo replaced Warmack to start the second half. Seumalo was the starter for the first two games of the season.
Contact Martin Frank at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.