Can Carson Wentz and 3 practice squad players help lead Eagles to the playoffs?
PHILADELPHIA - Carson Wentz walked through the Eagles' locker room after a long rain-soaked game Monday night. He got to the wide receivers part of the room, where he stopped.
There was J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and Greg Ward. Wentz grabbed them by the shoulder and told them how proud he was, told them to get some rest and get ready for another week.
And really, it was a fitting metaphor for the Eagles' season, a changing of the guard in so many ways.
Arcega-Whiteside, after all, is a rookie, and Ward was on the practice squad less than three weeks ago.
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Both helped save the Eagles' season on Monday night in their comeback from a two-touchdown deficit to beat the New York Giants 23-17 in overtime. So did running back Boston Scott and tight end Josh Perkins.
It wasn't anything close to what the Eagles expected when the season started, when their wide receiver corps was stacked with players like DeSean Jackson, Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor.
Eagles' Boston Scott (35) dives into the end zone to score Monday night against the New York Giants. The Eagles defeated the Giants in overtime 23-17. (Photo: Jerry Habraken, Delaware News Journal)
Jackson played in one full game. Agholor missed his second game in three weeks. And Jeffery left in the second quarter with a foot injury that could keep him out for a while. There's no Jordan Howard or Darren Sproles, either.
So the Eagles turned to Wentz, and he relied on the three practice squad players and a rookie in the second half.
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When asked what stood out about Wentz in the second half, running back Miles Sanders replied: "Leadership, man."
"He played a hell of a game, especially when it counts," Sanders added. "That just shows the type of team we are. We all bonded together and got the job done."
Sure, it would be easy to downplay this victory. After all, the Giants came into the game at 2-10, on an eight-game losing streak, with Eli Manning back at quarterback after starter Daniel Jones suffered an ankle injury the week before.
And the Eagles defense made Giants wide receiver Darius Slayton into the next Jerry Rice in the first half. Slayton had 154 yards receiving in the first half, and touchdowns of 35 and 55 yards, both coming against Ronald Darby.
But Slayton didn't catch another pass. And the Giants had just 29 yards in the second half.
That enabled Wentz and the offense to creep their way back into the game.
Get used to the slog, if you haven't already.
There won't be any easy wins for the Eagles. Not with what's left at wide receiver. Sure, you can criticize Eagles coach Doug Pederson for going into the game with only three wide receivers.
Pederson said afterwards that he was hoping that Agholor would be cleared to play, even though he didn't practice all week with a knee injury. The Eagles could have promoted another wide receiver from the practice squad, but decided not to.
"We kind of ran out of time," Pederson said about Agholor. "(Perkins) really is a versatile (player). He's listed as a tight end, but he can play a slot receiver, so we kind of rotated him in there with the other two tight ends."
Tight end Zach Ertz also found himself playing wide receiver. Ertz, of course, caught the game-tying touchdown pass with 1:53 left in regulation, and the game-winning touchdown pass, with 5:10 left. Both were from 2 yards out.
"I think (I played) every spot at the skill position besides running back," Ertz said. "I've been in (Pederson's) offense for four years now, and I take a lot of pride in being able to help the guys line up. Today, we just had to find a way, and obviously, with three receivers and losing Alshon, it was tough."
Then Ertz added about Ward, Arcega-Whiteside, Perkins and Scott: "Those guys are freakin' studs and I'm so proud of all of them."
But really, none of this happens without Wentz.
He has been criticized for rarely having a signature fourth-quarter, come-from-behind win.
Yet Wentz changed that Monday. He went 22-for-31 for 228 yards in the second half and overtime. Fifteen of those 22 completions went to four players who had a grand total of 14 catches this season.
Arcega-Whiteside caught a third-down pass, bending his back to catch the ball over his shoulder down the sideline for 22 yards and a first down in the fourth quarter on the game-tying TD drive.
Ward had a 12-yard reception down to the Giants' 1 on that drive.
Scott had a 25-yard run in overtime, getting the Eagles into Giants' territory. Then Perkins had a 13-yard reception.
"Obviously, he is putting a lot of trust in guys that he does not have a lot of reps with, and I think that speaks volumes of him," Ertz said about Wentz.
But if you're looking for Wentz to gloat, well, that's not going to happen.
"This is huge for this whole team," Wentz said. "I mean, to come in after halftime, to be where we were, and obviously knowing that our backs were against the wall, season on the line type of thing, for guys to just stay tough and stay together late in the game ...
"But to come out in overtime and get the win, and drive down to score right away is huge for me personally, and for this entire team."
At the very least, the Eagles guaranteed that the Dec. 22 showdown with the Cowboys will mean something.
And if Wentz has to keep relying on Arcega-Whiteside, Ward, Perkins and Scott?
"The confidence that each of these guys gained from tonight, kind of with our backs against the wall, was huge for us, and for me to trust in them and keep believing in them," Wentz said.
That's why Wentz walked down the locker room after the game, and made sure that those guys all knew how he felt.
After all, Wentz and the Eagles ar going to need them again.Contact Martin Frank at [email protected] Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.
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