Eagles bench Wentz as Hurts nearly leads comeback in loss to Packers
Carson Wentz said he didn't know if he was going to the sidelines for one play, one series, or the rest of the game when rookie Jalen Hurts came in to replace him midway through the third quarter.
It didn't take long for Wentz to realize that Hurts was not coming out.
So Wentz put on his overcoat and stood on the sidelines watching Hurts nearly lead the Eagles back from a 20-point deficit.
And now, the Eagles – and everyone else – are left to wonder if the change will become permanent, or at least for the rest of the season.
Hurts ended up throwing a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter of the Eagles' 30-16 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. In all, Hurts completed 5 of 12 passes for 109 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He also ran five times for 29 yards.
"I was just told he was going in for the next play and the next series, so I didn’t really know what was going on there," Wentz said. "Obviously, it’s frustrating as a competitor. Just the personality I have, I want to be the guy out there, but it is what it is.
"They made the call today. At the end of the day, we lost. As a team we lost, and I think that, for me, that’s what I’m most frustrated about."
Eagles coach Doug Pederson said he felt the team "needed a spark," in explaining why he made the move after 11 1/2 games of what has been the worst season of Wentz's career by far.
As to who will be the quarterback next Sunday when the Eagles face the New Orleans Saints, Pederson responded: "Listen, you gotta let me get through this game ... I’ve got to get through injuries. I’ve got to get through the tape. There are a lot of things that I’m going to consider and evaluate before anything is decided.
"Look, opportunity arose, and like I said, we just needed that opportunity to get us back into the football game, and we came up short."
But Pederson admitted there was a spark.
That included Hurts' 32-yard touchdown pass to Greg Ward, the first TD pass of Hurts' career, which came on a 4th-and-18 play. That was followed by Jalen Reagor's 73-yard punt return for a touchdown, bringing the Eagles to within 23-16 with 6:30 left in the fourth quarter.
Asked about his performance, Hurts said, "not enough," which he repeated two more times. But he did like the TD pass. "It was great. On the bright side of things, I’m not going to be Debbie Downer right now. But it was a blessing. It was a great feeling."
Hurts actually got a chance to lead the Eagles on a potential game-tying touchdown drive. But the Eagles had to punt. Packers' running back Aaron Jones' 77-yard touchdown run with 2:36 left put the game away.
Hurts then threw his first career interception, to Delaware native Darnell Savage, the Caravel Academy star. It was Savage's third interception in two games.
The Eagles dropped to 3-8-1 after losing their fourth straight, and they are 1½ games behind the first-place New York Giants in the NFC East. That could be the impetus to let Hurts finish out the season.
That's because Wentz went 6-for-15 for 79 yards through 2 1/2 quarters. It continued his miserable season.
Wentz was asked if he should get another chance to start.
"That’s not for me (to decide)," Wentz said. "I know what I’m capable of. I know I can play better. I never have doubted myself or lost my confidence in my abilities. A lot of these things are outside of my control."
It didn't take long for Hurts to make an impact. On his third play, Hurts hit fellow rookie Reagor for 34 yards to the Packers' 35. One play later, a long gain by Boston Scott was called back for a holding penalty, and the Eagles ended up punting.
Still, it was the first time that Hurts got consecutive plays with Wentz on the sideline. Hurts came into the game having had just 33 snaps in the first 11 games. He had tried only three passes up until Sunday.
The Eagles had little choice but to make the move.
That's because the same problems that plagued the Eagles throughout most of the season surfaced again in the first half.
The Eagles had the ball for 11:37 in the first quarter, yet had just three points to show for it.
After getting a 52-yard field goal from Jake Elliott on the opening drive, which lasted 15 plays, the Eagles again drove into Packers' territory, getting to the 30.
But Wentz was sacked on the next two plays – four times in all for a league-high 50 – knocking the Eagles out of field-goal range.
And the Packers, who had just five plays in the first quarter, took over from there. Aaron Rodgers went 25 of 34 for 295 yards and 3 TDs. His first two touchdowns came in the second quarter, from 1 yard out to Davante Adams on fourth-and-goal, then 25 yards to a wide-open Robert Tonyan.
Adams finished with 10 catches for 121 yards and a touchdown, mostly against Darius Slay, who struggled for the second straight week against a top receiver.
Slay left in the fourth quarter with a knee injury. Last week, Seattle's D.K. Metcalf had 10 catches for 177 yards, mostly against Slay.
But Slay's struggles were was overshadowed by Hurts, who finally got his chance. The only question is whether he'll get another.
"With all my heart, I had every intention of coming in and getting that done and winning the game, but we came up short," Hurts said. "That only lights a fire in everybody moving forward."
The Eagles finally saw tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert on the field together for the first time since Sept. 27 against the Cincinnati Bengals.
That day, Goedert hurt his ankle, went on injured reserve, and returned on Nov. 1. Ertz, meanwhile, injured his ankle Oct. 18 against Baltimore, went on IR and returned Sunday.
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Since then, the Eagles have had to rely on a young core of inexperienced wide receivers.
Ertz finished with 2 catches for 31 yards.
Ertz was having the worst season of his career before the injury, with just 24 receptions for 178 yards. It's a far cry from his 2018 season when Ertz set a single-season NFL record for receptions for a tight end with 116.
Jordan Howard also returns
The Eagles used Jordan Howard in the first quarter in his first game as an Eagle this season. Howard, of course, was the Eagles' top back last season until his neck injury on Nov. 3 essentially ended his season.
Howard, in fact, had 87 yards rushing last Sept. 27 in the Eagles' 34-27 win over the Packers at Lambeau Field.
Howard had 19 yards on four carries. As a Dolphin this season, Howard had 33 yards total – on 28 carries.
Contact Martin Frank at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.