Wentz must protect himself and stay on the field

Whatever your feelings are on the hit from Seattle defensive end Jadaveon Clowney that ended Eagles’ quarterback Carson Wentz’s season – “It was dirty!” or “It was just part of football!” – there is no mistaking the biggest takeaway from the moment: The instant Wentz left Lincoln Financial Field in the NFC Wild Card Playoff Game, the Eagles were at a distinct disadvantage.

And for a third straight year, Wentz was unable to finish an Eagles football season.

“It’s devastating for him,” tight end Zach Ertz said. “We all feel for him, how much he put into this moment, the first playoffs of his career. From the human side, you have to feel so much pain for the guy.”

There is no question that Wentz has endured more than his share from the injury side of things in the NFL. A knee injury in December 2017 robbed Wentz of the Super Bowl championship run. A back injury 12 months later sidelined him for the stretch run and the postseason of 2018. Just as we all maybe thought Wentz was beyond all the bad luck, he goes out on the eighth snap of the playoffs and takes a helmet-to-helmet hit from Clowney, who had a free shot on a franchise quarterback and took it.

Clowney did his job, whether you believe his hit was dirty or otherwise. He had a chance to punish a quarterback and he made the most of it, in what was the key moment of that playoff game.

“It’s a different game with Carson out there,” left tackle Jason Peters said.

As the Eagles and Wentz move into 2020, this much is abundantly clear: Wentz, while he’s certainly improved, still has to work on his self-protection in this game. The NFL has done all it can to protect a quarterback from late hits and unnecessary contact and now Wentz has to help himself even more.

On the play that knocked Wentz out of the game, he fakes a handoff to running back Miles Sanders and then rolls right. Wentz looks to his left for an open receiver. Nothing there. He keeps his eyes down the field as Seattle’s defense begins to converge. There really is nowhere to go for Wentz, yet he keeps the football and tries to gain a few yards with his legs, cutting toward the middle of the field and into the teeth of the defense.

Safety Bradley McDougald tackled Wentz and as the quarterback hit the ground, he was hit in the back and helmet by Clowney, who certainly came in at least a half-tick late. No flag. No matter. Wentz wobbled as he got to his feet, but he finished the series before heading to the sidelines and the blue tent, where he was visited by the league’s independent neurologist.

Game over. Season over.

For the Eagles to have the kind of long-term success they plan to have, it’s imperative that Wentz does everything he can to protect himself and stay on the field. Had he, on that fateful play, chosen to throw the ball harmlessly away instead of hurtling himself into danger, would the Eagles still be alive?

Injuries happen, yes. The game is a nasty, physical one, no question. Any defensive player who has a free shot on a quarterback is going to take it, you better believe. Wentz has the responsibility of living for another day, if he can avoid unnecessary risk. A franchise depends on it. ••