By Steve Kelly
When the Eagles filed into the locker room yesterday following their 43-35 victory against the Los Angeles Rams, injured quarterback Carson Wentz was a cheerleader.
It’s not enough that he is the best player on the team — and maybe the NFL.
And that he is the spiritual leader and lifter.
He was passing out hats commemorating the NFC East title the Eagles clinched after rallying to make up for the loss of their star quarterback, whose left knee injury – the worst fear is that it is a torn anterior cruciate ligament that will end Wentz’s season – represented the less-filling aspect of winning big.
“Carson was there waiting on everybody when they came in,” Nick Foles, Wentz’s backup, told reporters. “He was congratulating everybody, celebrating with everybody else.”
This is not a one-man team. Never was. Surely isn’t now.
Certainly the Eagles will miss the Wentz magic.
On his final throw of the day, he connected with Alshon Jeffery for a 2-yard touchdown – the throw, as Wentz was boxed in by rushers, was threaded into a tiny window in the middle of the end zone, which the receiver snagged about two inches from the turf before pinning it to his hip – that illustrated his value.
It was the type of play Goff couldn’t deliver when his team needed it most.
Unfortunately, the play that caused the injury was also a reminder of the gutsy nature that makes Wentz so special. He was hurt when he collided in the end zone with Mark Barron and Morgan Fox near the end of the third quarter, completing a two-yard scramble that wound up not counting as the touchdown was wiped out by a penalty.
“I just think that people did a good job of not flinching,” said defensive end Chris Long.
The Rams (9-4) are the ones who flinched when it mattered most, hurting themselves with silly penalties and blown execution. With the game on the line in the final four minutes, the Rams went three-and-out, with Goff’s third-down throw over the middle to Sammy Watkins sailing wide.
No doubt, they faced a tall order against an Eagles defense, led by a dominating front that includes the presence of defensive tackle Fletcher Cox.
The Rams seized the momentum with two quick scores early in the second half that reflected the ebb and flow of a much-hyped matchup that lived up to its billing.
Yet on a day with gut check early and more gut checks late to test mettle, the Eagles had a lot more to draw on.
“This team is a really mature team,” Cox said. “They scored 14 points in about five minutes and you didn’t see anybody on the sideline panicking about it.”
They will need that same mind-set to keep winning with Foles, who has started just one game the past two seasons (a victory against Jacksonville, while with Kansas City in 2016).
That’s life in the NFL, which has been underscored all season with the loss of so many key players across the league.
Yet no team headed for the playoffs may be better equipped to win without their starting quarterback than the Eagles.
Foles was the classic game manager in relief. He didn’t lead the offense to the end zone and netted just 42 yards on six completions. But he set the Eagles up for two field goals. He didn’t commit a turnover. And when he really needed to make a throw while trying to kill the clock in the final two minutes, he found Nelson Agholor for a nine-yard completion on third-and-eight.
Ready or not?
“I’m absolutely ready,” Foles declared. “That’s what I’m here for.”
The Eagles haven’t earned the No. 1 seed since 2004, the last season the franchise hosted an NFC title game and the last time it advanced to the Super Bowl.
Now it could be a matter of not trying to squander the opportunity without the man who best symbolizes the franchise’s rebirth.
That could become the Eagles mission and rallying cry.
Now is surely no time to flinch.