Why you should care
Because life-changing victories are not always a win.
When Carson Wentz went down with a torn ACL in Week 14, Super Bowl LII was the last thing on any Philadelphian’s mind. Talk of a curse resurfaced on radio waves, and the Eagles’ new starting quarterback, Nick Foles, was ridiculed by even the most loyal of fans. But after two Foles-led playoff victories, confidence is in surplus in Philadelphia. The city has rallied behind their new leader, with “In Foles We Trust” billboards dotting Route 30 and I-95.
“The energy around town has picked up, obviously,” says Brent Celek, the longest-tenured Eagle at 11 years. “But I think the energy inside this team has been different all year. We’ve noticed it from the beginning.”
Since early fall, this Eagles group has demonstrated unique resiliency. Wentz, the breakout star on pace for an MVP award, dominated headlines, but equally important was his team’s ability to overcome injuries. When All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters and linebacker Jordan Hicks went down in October, Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Dannell Ellerbe filled the void. “That’s what [Eagles head coach] Doug Pederson has been able to sell his team about the injury to Carson Wentz,” says ESPN host Trey Wingo. “He told them, ‘Look, we’ve been through this before and come out fine.’ They’ve embraced that.”
Regardless of Sunday’s outcome, the Eagles’ long-term future relies on a reconstructed left knee. And the thrills of Philly’s surprise Wentz-less run will hang over their quarterback’s return and shape his career. “Everybody knows that as soon as Wentz is healthy, Foles will be the backup,” says Wingo. “I don’t think there’s any debate about that.” But what is up for debate is when, exactly, Wentz will be healthy.
Speaking at Super Bowl LII Opening Night on Monday, Wentz remained positive while admitting that his injury is more severe than originally believed. In addition to the ACL, Wentz tore his LCL too. He’s still working to return for Week 1 of next season, but the LCL casts more doubt on whether that’s realistic. Knee injuries generally take nine months for full recovery. But setbacks happen often. “It’s hard to talk about timetables, because they’re always fluid,” said Wentz, whose trainers have reassured him that the LCL injury won’t necessarily alter his rehabilitation process.
No one would have blamed the Eagles for folding when Wentz went down, but Foles went 3-1 to close the regular season, posting numbers that “were literally what Carson Wentz had done all season,” says Wingo. And so far in the postseason, Foles became the second quarterback ever — alongside Joe Montana — to complete over 75 percent of his passes in back-to-back playoff games.
Too often in the NFL we’ve seen promising passers like Robert Griffin III, Sam Bradford and Daunte Culpepper derailed by repeated knee injuries. Houston’s Deshaun Watson and Miami’s Ryan Tannehill are currently dealing with this too. What makes Philadelphia’s situation unique is its perfectly sustainable roster structuring. Foles is signed for another season at $7 million, Wentz has two more years on his club-friendly rookie deal, and all but one starter remain signed through next season. The salary cap has been spread around the roster, providing the perfect balance of young talent and veteran presence that has birthed this epic Eagles season. “That’s why Howie Roseman is the executive of the year,” says Wingo. “He’s done an amazing job not only developing a team but keeping it together.”
If Wentz’s injury concerns linger, would Roseman risk paying the quarterback upward of $20 million — thus limiting the rest of his roster? It’s a question Philadelphia’s famously tough fans will be asking if Wentz stumbles early next year. But the young QB does not plan to let it come to that. “I’m going to use this as a learning experience and motivation,” said Wentz, eager to escape the sea of reporters that engulfed his seat in Minnesota’s Xcel Energy Center. Wentz watched as his healthier teammates walked freely on the floor below. He can’t wait to get back to work.
For added inspiration, Wentz need only look across the sideline on Sunday. Tom Brady — who calls Wentz “a stud” — tore his ACL in the 2008 opener, and missed that entire season. You can’t expect Wentz to lead a similar Kelly-green dynasty, but one look at Wentz suggests he’ll be back on this stage before long — without crutches.