Carson Wentz grew up faster than anyone expected
By Joseph Santoliquito
We all knew it was coming. We just didn’t see it coming this fast. The meteoric rise of Carson Wentz in his second NFL season took a hardscrabble city, playing in the hardscrabble NFC East Division, and the whole NFL by surprise in 2017. And when we wanted to see more, we couldn’t.
Wentz’s season ended prematurely on the turf of the Los Angeles Coliseum, when he tore the ACL in his left knee, though not before the second-overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft completed an Eagles’ single-season record—and league-leading at the time—33 touchdown passes against seven interceptions. In merely his second season, Wentz found himself in the company of such names as Tom Brady as an MVP consideration. As a testament to his growing popularity nationwide, Wentz’s No. 11 jersey was the NFL’s top-selling jersey in November.
As a testament to an extraordinary season, Wentz was selected as the winner of the 59th Bert Bell Professional Player of the Year Award. In doing so, Wentz becomes the sixth Eagle to receive the prestigious Bert Bell Award joining Norm Van Brocklin (1960), Pete Retzlaff (1965), Ron Jaworski (1980), Randall Cunningham, who won it twice (1988 & 1990), and Michael Vick (2010), the last Eagle to win the Bert Bell Award. Cunningham also won the award a third time (1988) as a member of the Minnesota Vikings.
Wentz receives the Bert Bell Award after setting an Eagles franchise record for touchdown passes in a season with 33, over 13 games, exceeding the previous mark held by Sonny Jurgensen, who threw for 32 over 14 games in 1961. Wentz, who was lost for the season with a torn ACL during the third quarter of the Eagles’ 43-35 victory over the Los Angeles Rams on Dec. 11, 2017, completed 265 of 440 passes for 3,296 yards during the season.
At the time of his injury, Wentz became one of three players in NFL history (joining Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, who both have done it twice) to have 33 touchdown passes and no more than seven interceptions in 13 games. He was ranked fourth in the NFL with a passer rating of 101.9, and was named NFC Offensive Player of the Month in October. During his groundbreaking season, Wentz also had six games with three touchdown passes and four games with four touchdown passes.
Wentz joins Hall of Fame running back Earl Campbell (1979) as the only players to have won the Bert Bell Award in their second NFL season.
Nick Foles was MVP of Super Bowl LII, but it was Wentz who got the Eagles there. Wentz led the Birds to a franchise-tying nine-game winning streak and a 10-1 record through 11 games.
“It feels good,” said Wentz, after completing 23 of 36 passes and tossing three TDs in the Eagles’ 31-3 late-November victory over the visiting Chicago Bears. “It’s one of those things where every week we just come in ready to work. It doesn’t matter who the opponent is or what their record is. It never really matters, it’s just like we’re going to win each day and get better each day. Then we just try to come out and enjoy it on game day. We’re playing with a lot of momentum, a lot of energy, and a lot of swagger out there. The defense is playing unbelievable. We feed off of that, and they feed off of us. So it’s a lot of fun right now.”
On whether he was surprised by such a large margin of victory, “I’m never really surprised by a lot, but any time in the National Football League you can win like that, that’s big, because that’s hard to do,” he said. “That’s just a credit to the coaches and the guys just buying in. We just keep playing all game too, even when [Eagles QB] Nick [Foles] goes in there and the other guys getting reps. It’s fun to be around.”
As it was fun watching Wentz.
“We kind of grew accustomed to seeing it in games, at practice, Carson will do something spectacular and everyone will wonder what they just saw,” Eagles’ Pro Bowl safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “The fun about watching Carson play is you don’t know what he’ll do next. I don’t think he knows sometimes what he’ll do next himself.
“But the result is usually good and it helped make this team believers that they could be playing deep into January.”
Time seemed to stand still as Wentz gingerly walked down the sideline toward the locker room with a slight limp, his head down and a towel draped over it before the Eagles’ 43-35 victory over the Rams on Dec. 10.
Though they won a huge game, the solemn Eagles click-clacked their way up the Coliseum tunnel as the sun was falling. News spread quickly that Wentz could be lost for the season with a torn ACL. But as each Eagle entered the dressing room, the newly minted NFC East champs for the first time since 2013 were greeted in the doorway by Wentz, a believer sharing the vibe that good things could still lie ahead.
Wentz still believed, as does Eagles’ head coach Doug Pederson moving forward, and looking back.
“Listen, Carson Wentz was [in] the MVP talk of the league last year,” Eagles’ coach Doug Pederson said. “And I truly believe if he’s healthy, I still feel strongly we’re probably in the Super Bowl and win the Super Bowl with Carson, and he’s the MVP. That’s just the way he played last year. He’s a big reason — he’s not the only reason — but he’s a big reason why we were 11-2 at the time, playing the Rams and won the NFC East.
“For me, being a former quarterback, to have two guys, really three guys, you throw Nate [Sudfeld] in there, you’re talking about Nick and Carson, who, you just don’t bat an eye with either one of these guys. The way they prepare, the way they study, their demeanor on the field, their leadership styles, it’s a blessing to have two veteran guys like that and to have a Super Bowl MVP as your backup.”
Winner: BERT BELL AWARD -Philadelphia Eagles