Carson Wentz could not have been worse.
Facing a three-man rush on second-and-13 at the Eagles' 22-yard line, trailing by 10 points in the fourth quarter of a must-win game at home against a mediocre opponent, Wentz inexplicably, inexcusably held onto the football for six seconds before finally, fatally taking a 7-yard sack. Wentz ignored check-down target Darren Sproles, undefended in the flat, for the entirety of those five seconds — Darren Sproles, whose very existence on the Eagles roster is to act as a check-down target in such situations.
When, at last, the defense arrived, Wentz compounded his mistake by twisting his body and trying to throw a weak, vulnerable pass, to no one. He twisted his body, which had been broken in various places for each of the past four years, while a 350-pound mass of angry humanity called "Snacks" Harrison wrapped his arms around Wentz's $128 million knees.
Even in his worst moment, Wentz was not solely at fault; when he rolled right and stopped, his line anticipated him either throwing or continuing to run, and so stopped blocking.
We mention this play not only because it was Wentz's worst moment, but rather because it was his only truly awful moment in the Eagles' 27-24 loss to the Lions. Surrounded by a confederacy of ham-handed, gagging posers, supported by a defense for which there is none, Wentz delivered a command performance in a massive moment.
He won't admit this, but he didn't lose. They did. Any attempt to depict what happened Sunday otherwise is a malicious representation.
With a team robbed of its aerial potency and devoid of defensive teeth, Carson Wentz and his chief enabler, coach Doug Pederson, hardly could have been better. They managed 24 points despite Wentz's supporting cast (save for Zach Ertz).
The Eagles' attack was brilliantly conceived, masterfully called, and, most critically, impeccably executed. Playing without primary vertical weapons DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery, the Eagles needed Wentz to play to his pedigree and his paycheck. They needed an elite performance from their quarterback. They got it.
Wentz could not control what happened around him: the two lost fumbles and the seven drops, one of each by Nelson Agholor, the good-natured and gifted wideout who now embodies ineptitude in Philadelphia.
Wentz controlled himself, and his play, and did so as well as humanly possible. If he continues to play this way — continues to diagnose defenses, play within the offense, and deliver catchable passes, short and deep, hard and soft, into windows as small as portholes and as large as pictures — the Eagles will always have a chance to win, even as 4-point road underdogs. It was Wentz, and nearly only Wentz, who gave them a chance Sunday.
Was he perfect? No. He once threw high to Ertz, threw high and behind Ertz and Mack Hollins once apiece, and overthrew Sproles once. Also, of course, he took that panicked sack, a reversion to the form he assumed in his first three seasons: trying to make a bad big play when a better little play lay in front of him.
So no, not perfect; but then, eliteness does not require perfection. All the elite quarterbacks make mistakes; Brady, Montana, Brees, Manning (you know which one). They earn red marks in every game, but their ledger usually reads black in the end.
So it was with Wentz on Sunday: Driving the ball 23 yards downfield to Ertz, laying two lovely touch passes into the hands of Agholor, hitting rookie running back Miles Sanders for 40 and 33 yards. Wentz managed the game: he ran and he slid, hit the hot route and the outlet, and put the passes where they needed to be, even if his receivers couldn't hang on — or, occasionally, if they couldn't get there.
In the middle of the third quarter, for instance, he called a timing route for Sanders to the short right pylon. Sanders was late. Wentz actually hit the pylon. It was beautiful.
It was beautiful, but it was, ultimately, failure. But not his failure. Wentz finished with a passer rating of 94.6, slightly higher than his career rating of 92.4 (which happens to be 14th best in the history of the NFL).
Consider, then, if Wentz's receivers had mishandled only three passes instead of the seven they dropped. Assume, too, that those dropped passes would have netted Wentz an extra 50 passing yards — a conservative estimate, to be sure. Wentz then would have recorded a passer rating of 111.9. That is almost eight points better than the career average of Aaron Rodgers, who happens to be the greatest passer who ever lived.
Rodgers also happens to be the quarterback Wentz will face Thursday night in Green Bay, where Wentz will be asked to perform at an elite level once again. Such a performance will again be imperative if the Eagles stand any chance, since Jackson won't play and Jeffery will participate in a diminished state, if at all.
It is a tall order, but Wentz showed Sunday that he can deliver.
Unlike the rest of the team.