Amid a packed crowd of mostly green, the Burgundian remains were deflated. Any hope they came in with went with the wind when the Commanders collapsed in the first half Sunday as they had a week earlier, ultimately losing to their NFC East rivals, 24-8in Carson Wentz’s first game against his original team.
“It’s like we’re constipated,” left tackle Charles Leno Jr. said. “We can’t get going.”
An important difference this time: There was no second-half rally like there was in last week’s loss at Detroit. There was no last gasp — especially not from Wentz. The quarterback finished 25 for 43 for 211 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions for a 71.0 passer rating. He was sacked nine times, topping his career high of eight in the 2020 season opener at FedEx Field, when he was with the Eagles and the team he suited up for Sunday was known as the Washington Football Team.
Wentz’s showing was both baffling and disturbing, and it raised questions about his confidence and emotions when facing his old team. He admitted it was “surreal” as he reconnected with some of his former teammates before kick-off, but he said it didn’t affect his game.
“Once the kickoff happened, it was football again,” Wentz said. “I think they just got our number today. … I know the Eagles fans travel well, and they came out and had a lot to be happy about today. We didn’t play our best ball, and I didn’t play my best ball.”
His replacement in Philadelphia played like the quiet veteran in the matchup. Jalen Hurts completed 22 of 35 attempts for 340 passing yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 123.5 rating.
The skewed display was a reminder of a matchup the Commanders (1-2) hoped to forget. In last week’s 36-27 loss at Detroit, Wentz was sacked four times in the first half as the offense struggled to create much of anything. Terry McLaurin didn’t have a goal in that span, the defense allowed three plays of at least 23 yards, and the Commanders went into halftime down 22-0.
During the first half Sunday, in front of a mostly pro-Eagles crowd, Wentz was sacked six times, fumbling once. McLaurin was never targeted again, mostly because his quarterback struggled to catch a pass, and the Chiefs allowed five plays of 23 or more yards. Washington was down 24-0 at halftime, a gap far too large to overcome.
“The biggest thing is not to give up [explosive plays],” cornerback Kendall Fuller said. “I think I gave up two that both led to points, so we’ve got to get better and that’s what I’ve got to get better at.”
Those plays proved costly early, but the sacks cost Washington the majority of the game. Somehow, the Eagles’ half-season didn’t fully reflect their dominance.
Washington’s depleted defensive line held in the first quarter to generate pressure on Hurts, and the secondary played tight coverage. Benjamin St-Juste, a second-year cornerback who worked primarily in the slot during the first two games, shifted to the outside because William Jackson III was inactive with a back injury. St-Juste had three pass breakups, two of which were on third and long, saving Washington from even bigger plays.
Among Philadelphia’s biggest threats coming in was its rushing offense, which ranked second in yards per game. Washington held the Eagles to 72 rushing yards on the day, a remarkable feat considering run defense was among the Commanders’ weakest links.
But by the second quarter, the Eagles (3-0) found their groove as Wentz kept getting hit after hit, shutting down the offense before it could move.
“We couldn’t sustain drives well enough, and we didn’t make enough plays on the outside to sustain drives,” McLaurin said. “… It’s hard when you lose but especially in that fashion and in your division.”
Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox had a hand in Wentz’s first two sacks; with Javon Hargrave joining soon after, the two made light work of Washington guards Trai Turner and Andrew Norwell, both rookies. But the pile-up of sacks wasn’t just an offensive line problem. Wentz’s penchant for holding the ball too long underlined the line, forcing his tackles to keep defenders at bay for far too long before the pocket collapsed.
“The bags and stuff, that’s not on them,” Wentz said of the line. “Most of them probably aren’t. … I have to get [the ball] out and stay confident. I think we did some of that today. It’s just not enough.”
Washington tried to run the ball sparingly, with limited success. But the Eagles’ sprawling lead forced the Commanders to play catch — 33 of Wentz’s 43 pass attempts came in the second half — even if they sputtered. And they often did.
Short screen passes were thrown into the ground. Deep balls went too deep. Each snap seemed to draw a collective gasp from the hometown fans who stuck around. Wentz appeared shaken, and his teammates looked visibly tired and frustrated.
Philadelphia’s scoring was contained to the first half, when Hurts threw all three of his touchdown passes: one to tight end Dallas Goedert, another to wide receiver AJ Brown and the third to DeVonta Smith, who completed a 44-yard pass on a double. coverage to set up his two-yard touchdown catch on the final play, which began to clear the stands. But even then Washington squandered its limited opportunities.
Its first points were scored by defensive tackle Daron Payne on a safety — after Washington failed to get it into the end zone on fourth and one — to make it 24-2. And although McLaurin finished with six catches for 102 yards, it wasn’t until the third quarter that he was finally targeted.
“I think [Wentz] could have played better,” Coach Ron Rivera said bluntly. “That’s the truth.”
Some Commanders fans stuck around to witness three more sacks before heading to the exits and missing Antonio Gibson’s one-yard touchdown run with 1:55 left.