How Carson Wentz's Injury Defined These Eagles

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. -- The first thing that happened when Carson Wentz limped down the tunnel at Los Angeles Coliseum was Jason Kelce grabbed Nick Foles and immediately began practicing some snaps on the sideline.
"You saw what happened with Carson, but you don't have time to really process it," Kelce said. "So I brought Nick over, 'Hey, let's get a few cadences so everybody can hear the rhythm,' because that can vary by quarterback and I wanted all the guys to hear him. You knew he was hurt, but we're still trying to win a football game.
"After the game, it's a pretty devastating feeling, to tell you the truth. Because he was the main reason we were there. After the game, I didn't know what to say. I didn't know what to do. But in the moment, you just have to get back to work."
In a season of dramatic challenges, this was by far the biggest.
Wentz had just suffered a season-ending knee injury late in the third quarter of a game against that game against Rams in Los Angeles, and although there was no official announcement, NFL players know a season-ending injury when they see one.
Their franchise, their MVP, their savior, was hobbling down a tunnel with a towel wrapped around his head.
Just like that, everything they had worked for was in jeopardy.
It was a pivotal moment for the 2017 Eagles. Really, it was the pivotal moment.
"One of the things that stands out to me when Carson got hurt, no one panicked," Zach Ertz said. "It was a huge moment for our team. Guys could have gone one of two ways. It was either going to be a disaster where everyone panics or everyone was going to remain calm, and everything we went through this year kind of prepared us for that extreme situation.
"He was the MVP of the league at that point and guys didn't even bat an eye."
Picture the scene.
Wentz tore his ACL and LCL in his knee late in the third quarter of the Eagles-Rams game, with the Eagles trailing, 28-24. He stayed in the game and four plays later threw a go-ahead touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery.
The Rams then drove 75 yards and took a 35-31 lead on a Todd Gurley touchdown run.
So the Eagles were 3,000 miles from home, their MVP was on crutches in the locker room, they were trailing a 9-3 team early in the fourth quarter and their backup quarterback had missed all of the preseason with an elbow injury and had thrown just four passes all year.
You want adversity? That's adversity.
"You could easily crumble," Trey Burton said. "The best player in the league goes down? Yeah. But all year, the next man has gone in and gotten the job done, and we just had faith in Nick and just kept fighting.
"What else would we do? There was no other option."
Foles went out and made enough plays to engineer two field goal drives, and the defense, gashed much of the game, held the Rams to six yards with two turnovers on their last three drives.
The Eagles won, 43-35. They haven't lost a meaningful game since.
"We've always felt it's not a one-man show, and we showed it that day and all year," Corey Graham said. "It was definitely big for us, finding a way to finish that game despite what happened."
They not only finished that game, they went on one of the most improbable runs in NFL history, reaching the Super Bowl with a quarterback who had contemplated retirement two years earlier, had changed teams after the 2014, 2015 and 2016 seasons and had a 5-7 record since leaving the Eagles three years ago.
"You know when you see someone walking off the field like Carson did that he's probably not coming back. Especially someone as tough as Carson," Torrey Smith said.
"You know they're not coming back. So that was the reality. To lose the MVP in my opinion, that's a tough task, but nobody blinked. We had to step up our game, rally around each other and make sure we're sharp, but when Nick stepped in, no one complained on the sideline.
"We felt bad for Carson, but nobody was like, ‘Oh no, Carson's hurt.' It was just, ‘Hey, we've got to win this game, let's go. Let's go.
"That's why you have to build a team the right way, so when things do happen, you're able to weather the storm. Character, talent, it all goes into it. If you have the right guys, they won't let it break them.
"No one flinched. And it's kind of been that way all year. We lose J.P. (Jason Peters), who was balling like a 22-year-old? We lose Jordan Hicks? (Darren) Sproles? (Chris) Maragos? It's just, ‘OK, come on let's go.' Let's just go win the ball game."
The win gave the Eagles the NFC East title, and a win over the Giants at the Meadowlands a week later clinched a first-round bye. The Eagles then beat the Raiders to lock up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Playoff wins at the Linc over the Falcons and Vikings have the Eagles in Super Bowl LII against the Patriots on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
Nearly two months after Wentz's season ended, the Eagles are one win away from the franchise's first championship since the 1960 team beat Vince Lombardi on a Monday afternoon at Franklin Field.
"Your focus has to go right back to the game because we're trying to win a tight ballgame that might decide home field and all that stuff, so we had to just snap our fingers and focus on the game," Chris Long said.
"It's kind of in our instincts the way we've been coached all year that we don't panic. We're not a panicky group. We're very even-keel.
"Certainly a lot of teams, a lot of coaching staffs, a lot of locker rooms would have panicked but we really didn't have that. I think a lot of it was that we had Nick, who isn't your average backup quarterback. He's played great in the league and he's an experienced guy, so while Carson is an MVP type guy, it takes a team, and we kept reminding ourselves of that. It takes 53 guys."
The Eagles lost Sproles in the first Giants game and won. They lost Peters and Hicks in the second Redskins game and won. They lost Maragos in the Panthers game and won. They lost Caleb Sturgis in the opener against the Redskins and won.
"Because we had so many moments like that one, it seemed like that prepared for that one," special teams coach Dave Fipp said.
"It wasn't Went  but other great players. So we kind of knew how to handle it. Just do the same thing we've been doing all year long.
"The best thing about this team is their resilience and their internal belief that they're going to find a way to get it done no matter what."
And the lesson the whole NFL has learned from the 2017 Eagles is that no team is just one guy. No matter how talented that one guy is.
The Eagles' ability to deal with Wentz's injury both in the moment and over these last two months is why they're still playing football on Feb. 4.
"You're in the locker room, you come to the locker room every day, sometimes you don't realize how much a head coach has to do with the psyche of the team one way or another and can rub off in a good or a bad way," Long said.
"I think coach has done a really good job of hammering home that this is a team. We miss Carson but at the end of the day it's 53 guys and that includes Nick, who's here for a reason.
"We really do have a good roster. All 22 positions. We've got good people in this room. We don't have finger pointers. Unselfish group and even keel. That's the mantra.  
"It's kind of unspoken because at the end of the day your leadership, your core players could give a big speech, but if your guys don't believe we can still be great, then how good is that going to be?
"It really does take belief that we're still a bad-ass football team."

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