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Sport Can Eagles' Carson Wentz deliver vs. Cowboys in biggest game of his career?

12:55  21 december  2019
12:55  21 december  2019 Source:   usatoday.com

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PHILADELPHIA – The Eagles drafted Carson Wentz for games like these, when a playoff berth is on the line, when he has to be the one to carry the team.

a hand holding a toy: Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz faces his biggest test on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys.© Eric Hartline, USA TODAY Sports Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz faces his biggest test on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys.

It just seems hard to fathom that it has taken nearly four seasons for Wentz to actually play in one of these games.

And yet, there was Wentz earlier in the week, standing at a podium being asked if the Eagles' game Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys is the biggest of his career.

"You could probably say that," Wentz said. "I mean, it’s definitely a big game. We know the situation."

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When Wentz ’s career is over, he probably won’t look back on Week 16 of the 2019 season as the biggest game of his career . If he does, something has gone horribly wrong. For now, though, Wentz is right. His start Sunday will be the closest thing to the playoffs he’s experienced since he was drafted in 2016. Chris Godwin shares the advice Tom Brady has given his Tampa Bay Buccaneers teammates ahead of their Super Bowl LV matchup versus the Kansas City Chiefs. 1d ago. Associated Press.

If Carson Wentz throws bad interceptions Sunday night, I dunno what to tell you; Dallas has managed one pick all season. And the Cowboys can’t stop the run, so even without Miles Sanders, and despite whatever O-line configuration manages to take the field for the Eagles , there are no excuses for not The Eagles ' pass rush should generate enough pressure against a line that’s been without mainstays. All-Pro guard Zach Martin could be back, but he has often brought the best out of defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. Ezekiel Elliott is still the Cowboys ' bell cow running back, and he’s had his moments

The Eagles and Cowboys are tied for first place in the NFC East with 7-7 records.

If the Eagles lose, Dallas will clinch the NFC East title and the automatic playoff berth that goes with it, and the Eagles will be eliminated from playoff contention.

If the Eagles win, then they can clinch the division title on Dec. 29 either with a win over the Giants or a loss by Dallas to Washington.

Fair or not, then, the game against the Cowboys will serve as a referendum on Wentz. He's the quarterback, after all, who signed a $128 million contract extension last June, a record at the time.

Win, and Wentz will be the toast of the region again. Lose, and fans will again question whether he is truly the franchise quarterback, or if the Eagles made the wrong decision by letting Nick Foles leave last winter in free agency.

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At halftime, when Wentz had only three turnovers and the Cowboys led 9-7, Eagles coach Doug Pederson admitted that Wentz was pressing. Again. Which is understandable, even for a fifth-year player making 8 million and one who has made a Pro Bowl. He’s finally the unquestioned leader of the team after leaning on Malcolm Jenkins to do that job for four years. He’s missed the biggest games of the year the past three seasons due to injury, and in two of those seasons, Nick Foles succeeded in his absence. Wentz has to pass a statue of Foles' finest hour, in Super Bowl LII, every time he plays

And yet, so little is known about how will Wentz will perform in such a game. There simply isn't enough evidence.

Wentz has only played a full 16-game season once, and that was in his rookie year in 2016. The Eagles were never a serious playoff contender that season. They were 5-9 before finishing the season with two straight wins.

Wentz was having an MVP-caliber season in 2017 when he tore his ACL in a Dec. 10 game against the Rams. The Eagles were 11-2 at the time, and had just clinched a playoff spot.

Foles took over and the Eagles ended up winning the Super Bowl.

Glimpses, both good and bad

A similar situation developed last season, except Wentz wasn't nearly as successful.

The Eagles were 5-6 under Wentz, who returned in Week 3 from his torn ACL. Then his season was cut short again when he was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his back after the Eagles lost 29-23 in overtime to the Cowboys on Dec. 9.

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On offense, it was Carson Wentz and his band of unknown receivers and running back Miles Sanders. All of them played vital roles as the Eagles held off the Dallas Cowboys 17-9 on Sunday and took over first place in the NFC East by one game . The Eagles (8-7) won their third straight game , and they can clinch the WENTZ IN CHARGE: Can Eagles ' Carson Wentz deliver vs . Cowboys in biggest game of his career ? In addition, running back Jordan Howard (shoulders) missed his sixth straight game . The Eagles ' inactives were Johnson, Agholor, Howard, DE Shareef Miller, QB Nate Sudfeld, G Nate

Here is why the Philadelphia Eagles should be encouraged by quarterback Carson Wentz ’s play in Sunday's 37-9 win over the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium in

The Eagles were 6-7 at the time, and they needed to win their three remaining games to reach the playoffs. Foles, once again, led the Eagles to the postseason, where the Eagles beat the Bears before losing to the Saints.

So, yes, this is the latest Wentz has played in a season since 2016, and with the most on the line.

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"Yeah, I’m excited about it," he said. "The last couple of years didn’t end like I wanted them to personally, obviously, being hurt and everything. So I’m excited to just be playing here in December with what’s at stake and be out there with my guys."

Perhaps we saw a glimpse of how Wentz will handle a game like this, both in the good and the bad.

Wentz rallied the Eagles to fourth-quarter comeback wins – 23-17 in overtime against the Giants on Dec. 9, and 37-27 over Washington last Sunday. Those were his first two wins this season when the Eagles had trailed in the fourth quarter.

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He has done it only six times in his career. As a comparison, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, drafted in the fourth round in 2016, or 133 picks after Wentz at No. 2, has seven such comeback wins. Houston's Deshaun Watson, drafted in 2017, has eight.

For the season, Wentz has completed 63.4 percent of his passes for 3,431 yards with 25 touchdown passes against seven interceptions. His passer rating is 92.3, which ranks 14th among NFL quarterbacks.

But over the last three games, Wentz has completed 65.5 percent of his passes for 901 yards, with eight TDs and one interception for a rating of 99.8. The last two games were must-wins.

"Honestly, I think for Carson, it’s just going to be another game for him," right guard Brandon Brooks said. "I get it’s the Cowboys and everything is on the line. One thing about him is I don’t think any moment is too big for him.

"Come Sunday, I know he’s going to ball out, just like he did every game this year. I’m expecting big things, just like he’s been doing all year."

But there are some ominous signs, too, primarily Wentz's proclivity to fumble.

Since the start of the 2018 season, Wentz has fumbled the most times among NFL quarterbacks, with 23. He has lost 12 of them. That includes 14 fumbles this season, the second most in the NFL. He lost seven.

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His latest fumble, midway through the fourth quarter against Washington, nearly cost the Eagles the game. The Redskins recovered on the Eagles' 34, but the defense held them to a field goal to break a 24-24 tie with 4:52 left.

'Wear teams out and grind salt'

Wentz responded with a long drive that ended with a 4-yard TD pass to Greg Ward with 26 seconds left for the go-ahead touchdown. He completed all eight of his pass attempts on that drive, for 70 yards.

The Eagles couldn't recover from Wentz's fumble early in the first quarter against Dallas on Oct. 20. That gave the Cowboys the ball at the Eagles' 14, and it came after Dallas Goedert fumbled on the Eagles' first possession. The Cowboys scored touchdowns on each turnover in taking a 14-0 lead barely six minutes into the game.

The Eagles ended up losing 37-10.

"I just gotta protect the ball," Wentz said. "When I’m moving in the pocket, I just gotta keep two hands on the ball and be cognizant of who and what’s around me."

If he can do that, the Eagles can control the ball and keep the Cowboys' offense off the field. The Eagles rank second in the NFL in time of possession per game, averaging 33 minutes per game. The Cowboys average an NFL best 434 yards per game.

The Eagles have eight scoring drives of 10 plays or more in the last three games, including four last Sunday against Washington.

Of course, the Eagles don't have a choice. They will likely play their second straight game without their top three wide receivers – DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery are on injured reserve, and Nelson Agholor has missed three of the last four games with a knee injury. He hasn't practiced this week.

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"It’s kind of our identity right now," tight end Zach Ertz said about long drives. "It’s where we’re at from a team and personnel standpoint. Right now, that’s our formula for success, wear teams out and grind salt, which is kind of the mantra that we have. Just doing whatever it takes to get the ball in the end zone.

"Obviously, everyone would love to score in three plays each and every time. Sometimes it’s just not possible, and you gotta run the ball, have long drives, get in third-and-short and find ways to execute. Yeah, it's a little tougher that way, but we’ve been able to do it the past couple weeks."

Wentz has orchestrated all of it.

And that, in turn, has enabled Wentz to put the Eagles in this position, where he's playing in the biggest game of his career, after spending the last two seasons watching someone else lead the team.

Contact Martin Frank at mfrank@delawareonline.com. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.

This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Can Eagles' Carson Wentz deliver vs. Cowboys in biggest game of his career?

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