You don’t have to be in Philadelphia long to understand how much the city loves Carson Wentz.
Step off the plane and you’ll see Wentz jerseys on sale in the airport. Your Uber driver can’t wait to bring up Wentz and the Philadelphia Eagles’ great season. Wentz is only in his second season, but Philadelphia is all-in on Wentzmania. His presence is felt everywhere in the city. Wentz and the Eagles were having a special season, and Eagles fans allowed themselves to dream that this was the season they would finally get their Super Bowl. It was a huge, wonderful story for the league as a whole.
Unfortunately, the NFL’s cursed 2017 season had to step in and ruin everything.
Wentz is probably done for the year with an ACL injury. Multiple reports said the Eagles fear he tore his ACL, and he’ll have an MRI on Monday to confirm. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport gave some glimmer of hope with a report that initial tests offered no definitive proof of a complete tear, but let’s assume the fears are right and Wentz is done for the season. Maybe Nick Foles can pull a Jeff Hostetler, who replaced an injured Phil Simms late in the 1990 season and led the New York Giants to a Super Bowl win, but that seems doubtful. The Eagles are 11-2, coming off a massive 43-35 win over the Rams, and must feel like their championship dreams are over.
Injuries are a part of football, but the NFL has to wonder what it did to deserve all the injuries to marquee players this year. Many stars, from Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson to Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, have missed most of the season. The NFL had a great feel-good story in Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson and his unbelievable rookie season, then he blew his ACL in practice. The Wentz injury feels the same.
Wentz was a strong candidate for MVP in his second season. He was adding to his résumé Sunday, with four touchdowns in less than three quarters in a big game against the Rams. Wentz was making incredible plays look easy. Then he was hit hard by Rams linebacker Mark Barron when he dove into the end zone. It was clear Wentz was shaken up some, but it didn’t look like a typical major knee injury. A holding call brought that run back, but Wentz stayed in. He completed a fourth-down pass for a touchdown. There were no signs anything was seriously wrong. Yet, a few minutes later Eagles fans were in crisis mode. By the time Fox came back from commercial, they noted Wentz was in the medical tent. Then Wentz was walking back to the locker room, and was ruled out of the game a few minutes later. The story unfolded in a way you never see. Eagles fans saw their superstar quarterback complete a touchdown pass, and before the Eagles even got the ball back it was clear Wentz had a serious injury.
That’s just how the NFL’s season is going. The negative stories have overshadowed the sport, whether it’s the national anthem protests, claims that the league blackballed Colin Kaepernick, the league’s insufferable fight with Ezekiel Elliott through various courtrooms, a feud with President Donald Trump, everyone dissecting television ratings, the mishandling of concussions (which we saw again with Texans quarterback Tom Savage on Sunday) or Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier’s horrendous spinal injury. Whenever the NFL thinks it has a good story this season, it ends up getting ruined. Rams-Eagles was one of the best games of the season, with Wentz stealing the show. Then all the headlines changed in an instant.
An Eagles Super Bowl run would have been a boon for the NFL. The league will go on without Wentz, and the NFC will still have a good Super Bowl participant. The Minnesota Vikings lost on Sunday, but they’ve been a great story. The New Orleans Saints have the type of balanced team that can make a run. The Rams are in a good position too. The Carolina Panthers are coming on strong. Perhaps the Green Bay Packers with Rodgers back can sneak into the playoffs, or the Dallas Cowboys find a way in. Maybe the Eagles make a storybook run with Foles. But a lot of the air seems to have gone out of the balloon with Wentz’s injury.
Philadelphia will be hit hardest by Wentz’s injury. But it’s terrible for the entire NFL. You didn’t have to be from Philadelphia to enjoy what Wentz had done in his second season. The league can’t catch a break this year. Its hellish season continues, now without its biggest breakout star.
Here are the rest of the winners and losers from Week 14 of the NFL season:
Aaron Rodgers: For a good part of Sunday afternoon, it looked like there would be no need for Rodgers to come back this season.
It seemed the Packers were headed to a loss against the Cleveland Browns, which would have practically ended their season. A weird play call on fourth-and-1, in which Brett Hundley seemed to be looking around for an option that wasn’t there, was stuffed. The Browns scored right after to take a 21-7 lead. The Packers had gotten Rodgers back at practice, on the verge of a return from a broken collarbone and perhaps a playoff push, but a loss was going to render it all moot.
But the Packers rallied, and Rodgers’ return is still in play. The Browns somehow blew their first win this season. A long punt return near the end of the fourth quarter by Trevor Davis helped Green Bay tie the game. Brett Hundley, who threw for three touchdowns, threw a game-tying touchdown to Davante Adams and then the game-winner to Adams in overtime. The Packers survived, and improved to 7-6. They’re not in a great spot, but at least they’re still alive.
The Packers are just a game behind the Seahawks and Falcons, who are tied for the final wild-card spot. Rodgers still needs to be cleared to return. But that’s still in play with the Packers’ win, and if he returns, who knows what might happen in a suddenly wide-open NFC.
Jimmy Garoppolo: We might look back at the San Francisco 49ers’ trade right before the deadline for Garoppolo and wonder two things: Why was he acquired for such a modest price, and why didn’t any other team offer the New England Patriots more?
The 49ers might have gotten a long-term starter for the price of a second-round pick. Any team in the NFL would sign up for that deal. The 49ers were 1-10 when Kyle Shanahan was finally forced to start Garoppolo, after C.J. Beathard’s injury. The 49ers are 2-0 with Garoppolo starting. Both wins have come on the road, and Garoppolo has had some fine moments in both.
Garoppolo was 20-of-33 for 334 yards in a 26-16 win over the Houston Texans. The Texans aren’t very good after injuries hit them hard, but Garoppolo still looked the part. If you had to judge the trade right now, you’d say the 49ers cleaned up. The 49ers will have to give Garoppolo a long-term deal (or franchise tag him) next offseason, and every performance like Sunday will add to the price tag. That’s a pretty good problem for the 49ers to have.
Matthew Stafford: After Stafford hurt his right hand last week, it was questionable if he’d play Sunday. It became clear late in the week the tough Detroit Lions quarterback would play, but nobody knew if he would be effective. Maybe the Lions would have to scale back how much Stafford passed with a bad hand.
He was just fine. Playing with what has been termed a badly bruised right hand, Stafford completed 36-of-44 passes for 381 yards and led a late drive that resulted in a game-winning field goal. With the 24-21 win over the Buccaneers, the Lions improved to 7-6 and kept their playoff hopes alive. That wouldn’t have happened without their quarterback.
Stafford gets criticized, often because of his contract that’s the richest in NFL history, but the Lions would be nowhere without him. He showed again on Sunday how valuable he is.
The Jacksonville Jaguars … offense?: The 2000 Baltimore Ravens had a better offense than you remember. It wasn’t great, but finished about in the middle of the pack in most key statistics. The 2000 Ravens were 14th in the NFL in points scored and 16th in yards gained. But everyone recalls them as being offensively challenge because they had a maligned quarterback in Trent Dilfer and a great defense that overshadowed everything else.
Seeing a parallel? The Jaguars aren’t great on offense, but the offense might be good enough for them to make some noise in the playoffs.
The defense did its thing, holding down Russell Wilson until he got hot in the second half. And the offense put up 30 points and 424 yards. Seattle’s defense is beat up, but it was still a good performance by the Jaguars. Blake Bortles threw for 268 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Leonard Fournette had 101 rushing yards and a touchdown. Seattle put up 24 points when Wilson nearly willed them back in the game, and it still wasn’t enough. Jacksonville won 30-24.
The Jaguars are dangerous. Their defense is as good as we’ve seen in many years. And the offense is probably a little better than it gets credit for.
Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston: Remember when Winston and Mariota, the top two picks of the 2015 draft, were rising stars? That was fun.
It’s rare to see a third-year regression after two promising seasons, but that’s what has happened for both quarterbacks.
Mariota has taken a big step back. The Tennessee Titans are somehow 8-5, but they haven’t been very good and were dealt a bad 12-7 loss Sunday by the Arizona Cardinals. Mariota threw two interceptions. One was late in the third quarter, on a possible miscommunication. Another came in the fourth quarter with the Titans down 9-7, and it was all Mariota’s fault. He never seemed to see linebacker Josh Bynes over the middle. Mariota has 10 touchdowns and 14 interceptions this season, a shocking stat considering he had 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions last season. Mariota injured his knee on Sunday too, though it doesn’t seem to be serious.
Winston is regressing too. He’s simply too careless with the ball. The Buccaneers had a shot to win on Sunday, but Winston’s two interceptions and one lost fumble were costly. Winston has 12 turnovers in 10 games, and hasn’t made enough big plays to make up for that.
The NFL is better when the quarterback play is at its best. It needs young quarterbacks to emerge as stars. Before this season, Winston and Mariota looked to be on that path. You wouldn’t put them in that group at the moment, though.
Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys won Sunday, which they needed to do, and that should be great news. But overall, Week 14 wasn’t so kind.
Dallas is 7-6 and needs a lot of help. It didn’t get much. Not that there were realistic dreams of winning the NFC East, but the Eagles clinched it on Sunday to officially close that door. That leaves two wild-card spots for Dallas to chase.
The Panthers, who won Sunday, are the NFC’s first wild-card team at 9-4. Falcons won on Thursday to improve to 8-5. The Seahawks did lose and that helps Dallas, but they’re still 8-5, a game ahead of the Cowboys. The Packers and Lions won to improve to 7-6, so they’re in the mix too. The Cowboys need help and time is running out to get it.
All Dallas can control is winning, and they did that. Dez Bryant had a nice 50-yard touchdown, and then the Cowboys broke a close game against the New York Giants open in the fourth quarter. Dallas has just one more game to go before Ezekiel Elliott can return from suspension. But the Cowboys probably need to win out and still get help, and they didn’t get much of the latter on Sunday.
The Oakland Raiders in the AFC West race: The idea of a three-team AFC West race was fun, but it didn’t last long.
With the Raiders’ putrid performance on Sunday, we’re down to the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers for the division crown. The Chiefs looked good in dominating the Raiders in a 26-15 win, and the Chargers destroyed the Washington Redskins 30-13. Those two teams play on Saturday night in a fun game that seems like it will decide the division title. The Chargers are playing as well as any team in the NFL, and on Sunday the Chiefs at least showed glimpses of rediscovering the form they had early this season.
The Raiders are probably done at 6-7. They’re only a game behind the other two teams, but it would take a lot of luck to win the division now. And the Raiders haven’t shown they’re capable of playing well enough to win out. Quarterback Derek Carr was brutally honest in his assessment of his play and his team’s play Sunday, and he was right. He was terrible, and so were the Raiders. And now their season is probably done.
Marvin Lewis: The Bengals were coming off a crushing loss on Monday night, blowing a lead to the Pittsburgh Steelers that effectively ended their season. They took on some key injuries in that game. But Sunday was still ugly no matter the excuses, and you have to wonder if Marvin Lewis is in his final days as Bengals coach.
Quarterback Andy Dalton said the Bengals didn’t have a lot of energy on Sunday, and receiver A.J. Green said the 33-7 loss to the hapless Chicago Bears was “definitely embarrassing” according to ESPN’s Katherine Terrell. Embarrassing only begins to describe it. At home, the Bengals lost by 26 points to a Bears team that came in with a 3-9 record and hadn’t won since Oct. 22.
The Bengals don’t even have to fire Lewis. His contract is set to expire after the season. Lewis has done well for a franchise that had very little success before he got there, and he has had a lot of job security as a result. But watching the Bengals flail around against the Bears, it was easy to wonder if Lewis’ days as Bengals coach are numbered.
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