What happened to the Eagles this season and during the NFC East champion’s Wild Card playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks probably wasn’t fair. But pro football isn’t always fair.
The endless stream of injuries reached to the core of the Eagles lineup during the Birds’ 17-9 loss to the Seattle Seahawks at the Linc.
Quarterback Carson Wentz left the game in the first quarter with a head injury, and veteran linebacker Brandon Graham left the game in the second quarter with a knee injury.
Graham returned to the game but did not register a tackle or sack. Wentz did not return.
Wentz’s stat line after waiting four seasons to finally start a playoff game was one completion for three yards in four passing attempts. He did not throw an interception, but was sacked once during his less than one quarter of play.
Wentz suffered the head injury on the Eagles’ second possession of the game. It occurred on a play in which Wentz completed a 3-yard pass to Boston Scott. It appeared Wentz was on the ground when Seahawks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney instigated a helmet-to-helmet hit on Wentz, who left the game immediately. No foul was called and when questioned by a pool reporter after the game, referee Shawn Smith said the hit was “incidental.”
Eagles fans may remember back on Dec. 23, 2018, when Clowney, then with the Houston Texans, illegally sacked quarterback Nick Foles. Clowney was called for spearing Foles in the chest on the play. The Eagles won the game, and he was fined $40,110 for the incident.
After the game, Clowney, who was traded to the Seahawks in the offseason, swore he meant no harm to Wentz.
“I didn’t see anything,” said Clowney, who finished with five solo tackles, a sack, two tackles for loss and a quarterback hit. “I was just playing fast, and he turned like he was running the ball, so I was trying to get him down. It was a bang-bang play. I don’t intend to hurt anybody in this league, let me just put that out there. I’ve been down the injury road; it’s not fun. My intention was not to hurt him. I was just playing fast.”
Clowney was asked if he had any empathy for Wentz since he has had to deal with injuries in the past.
“Like I said, I don’t intend to hurt anybody,” he continued. “That’s a great player over there for their team and for their organization. I hope he’s OK. Like I said, I didn’t intend to hurt him. I didn’t even know he went out of the game until the next series. I thought it was just a small hit, but everybody was going crazy on the sidelines. I was just trying to finish the play, but it happened. I hope he’s OK. I hope he’s good.”
Veteran Josh McCown came in for Wentz and engineered three scoring drives that all ended in Jake Elliott field goals.
Twice in the fourth quarter, McCown led the Eagles on drives to the 24-yard line and the 10-yard line, only to have the drives turned over to Seattle on downs.
McCown, making his first appearance in an NFL playoff game, was emotional after it was over. He was coaxed out of retirement to back up Wentz after Foles moved on to play for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The 40-year-old journeyman was 18-of-24 for 174 yards. He was sacked six times but did not throw an interception. McCown was charged with two fumbles but both were recovered.
“There’s a lot that goes into this,” McCown said after the game. “Everybody that sets foot into (NovaCare) puts a lot into getting this thing done. When you put everything into trying to win that game and it doesn’t get done, it’s just painful. It hurts. From my standpoint, it feels like as a quarterback you want to do more, and you feel like you can do more. You start replaying these plays in your mind of maybe where you could have been better. I always just have that perspective of, I could have been better. You feel like you let those people down that come to the building. That’s a hurt feeling. You don’t want to have that. So, it was just a reflection of that.”
McCown was asked if he’d consider returning to the Eagles for another season.
“This year has been nothing short of special for me,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed it and have learned so much from so many people. I’m thankful to be a part of it. As far as the future goes, we’ll see. I haven’t made any decisions yet. I’ll get with my family and talk with them. I retired once, so I know how to do that. We’ll just see. I don’t know yet.”
Eagles fans will always wonder what could have been if Wentz didn’t get hurt. The Eagles defense and special teams came up big on Seattle’s first two possessions. Seattle went three-and-out on its first drive, then, after a drive that stalled at the 17-yard line, Vinny Curry blocked Seattle’s 35-yard field goal attempt by Jason Myers.
Overall, the Eagles defense played well, limiting Seattle to 17 points.
But when your offense is struggling, the Eagles defense needed to be near perfect and they weren’t.
Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson was 18-of-30 for 325 yards and a back-breaking 53-yard touchdown pass to DK Metcalf in the third quarter. Wilson also rushed nine times for 45 yards.
The Birds could just not get off the field consistently on crucial third-and-long plays. Seattle was
eight-of-15 on third-down conversions for the game.
Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham, who finished with five total tackles and a quarterback hurry, was asked about his unit’s effort in the playoff game and down the stretch of the season.
“Resilient guys, man, balling through everything, every aspect of adversity,” Bradham said at his locker after the game. “That’s what we did. We couldn’t put a stop on it tonight, though.”
Bradham talked about the endless injuries the Eagles endured.
“It’s tough, man,” Bradham said. “It’s part of the game. It sucks for us to keep losing significant players. All throughout the year, we didn’t have significant guys who were hurt.”
Safety Rodney McLeod, who finished with two tackles, said the defense can’t worry about the quarterback situation.
“It’s the playoffs,” McLeod said. “We knew it was going to be a fight. Our mindset didn’t change (after Wentz went out). We’ve got to do our job. Our job is to keep points off the board. That’s our job no matter who’s back there.”
Prop Bowl safety Malcolm Jenkins, whose future with the Eagles is unclear, although he is under contract in 2020, talked about the locker room after the game.
“The hardest part about this one is that it’s so final,” the 32-year-old said. “What this team has been through – we fought to get here. It’s tough because we know the locker room always changes every year. That was the last time we all got to go battle together. For it to end in the way that it did, it’s just tough. We’re definitely proud of so many different guys in the locker room that had to step up just to get us to this point.” ••
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii.