Figures that Carson Wentz would be the party pooper.
Since the NFL schedule was released, Monday night’s game between the Eagles and Commanders looked like the game of the year in Philadelphia. It would be Wentz’ first game at Lincoln Financial Field since he was benched for cause in 2020 and run out of town via a trade after the season.
Fans planned a greeting with the kind of enthusiasm and vitriol for which Eagles fans are infamous.
Then, the inevitable happened on Oct. 13 — a Wentz injury. Wentz suffered a fractured ring finger on his throwing hand. He will not play Monday night.
The Eagles gleefully sacked Wentz an astounding nine times in their first meeting on Sept. 25. The Eagles won, 24-8, and Wentz was humiliated.
Eagles fans took over FedEx Field that day and took great delight in Wentz’ disastrous game. Eagles coach Nick Sirianni praised the fans that day for their support.
Still, there’s nothing like home and a boisterous crowd of 70,000 ready to share their innermost feelings.
Expect some kind of acknowledgment for Wentz from the 8-0 Eagles on Monday. Expect some cheers, too — without Wentz in 2017, there is no Super Bowl — but those feelings have long faded.
The welcoming committee will have to settle for booing someone who can’t play.
HEINICKE THE STARTER
Taylor Heinicke, who started 15 games last season, took over for Wentz and has gone 2-1. He could be 3-0, as Washington held a 17-7 lead in the fourth quarter on the Vikings on Sunday.
Heinicke overthrew a receiver and the Vikings picked it off with less than 8 minutes to play. Minnesota got the win.
Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon was asked the difference between playing against Wentz and Heinicke.
- “A lot of the same things. I think he [Heinicke] presents a certain challenge because he can make a lot of off-schedule plays,” Gannon said.
- “He doesn’t have a lot of fear of throwing the ball into coverage, and he’s got good skill guys around him and he gives them chances to make plays on 50/50 balls, which you’ve seen him do as he’s come back in a little bit.
- “It’s basically the same offense to me. It’s just that he can move around and make some off-schedule plays, which presents a different challenge to us when we rush and when we cover.
- “We’ll have a good plan ready to go, and we have to execute at a high level to give ourselves a chance to win the game.”
STRONG WASHINGTON DEFENSE
The Commanders’ defense is a formidable unit and one that might improve with the possible return of defensive end Chase Young.
Young hasn’t played since tearing an ACL a year ago. He’s been practicing since last week and his status for Monday hasn’t been determined.
The highlight matchup likely will be the Eagles’ offensive line vs. the Commanders’ defensive line. In the first meeting, the Eagles ran 30 times for 72 measly yards, their lowest output in a year.
“They’re really good,” Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen said about the Commanders’ defensive line.
- “I think it starts up front, obviously, with [defensive tackle Jonathan] Allen, [defensive tackle Daron] Payne, [defensive end Montez] Sweat, and then obviously if Chase Young comes back, it’s a really good group.
- “They’re very powerful inside … They’re good against the run and they can rush the passer.
- “I think with any football team it starts upfront with offensive and defensive lines, and that’s how they set the tone defensively with their defensive line.
- “And the good thing is we have a great offensive line to counter that. We know it’s going to be a heck of a challenge every week, especially when you are playing a division opponent.”
In the first meeting, the Eagles sacked Wentz so many times that the Washington offense couldn’t get untracked. Wide receiver Terry McLaurin had six catches for 102 yards, all in the second half, as Washington tried to come back from a 24-0 halftime deficit.
Jalen Hurts completed 22-of-35 passes for 340 yards and three touchdowns. He was sacked three times. Hurts looked like the prototypical field general — in command on the field and in the huddle.
Hurts had something to prove against Washington. After the Eagles unexpectedly drafted him in 2020, Hurts sat behind Wentz through most of the season. He replaced Wentz in the third quarter against the Packers on Dec. 6, 2020, and showed promise. Once Hurts became the starter the following week, the Wentz era was over in Philly.
Hurts had plenty of help in that first meeting this season: DeVonta Smith had eight catches for 169 yards and a touchdown. A.J. Brown had five catches for 85 yards and a touchdown. Dallas Goedert had a touchdown reception.
After the game, even his critics swooned. National media types started to pay attention. Belief grew around Philly that Jalen Hurts might be special and he might carry the team further than anyone could have imagined.