Carson Wentz is shattering even the loftiest expectations as Eagles soar

Lorenzo Reyes
USA TODAY
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Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (11) reacts after his 73 yard touchdown pass against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the third quarter at Lincoln Financial Field.

PHILADELPHIA — A fan here held up a sign with a ginger-haired Jesus pointing one finger forward on his right hand, and flashing a thumbs-up with his left.

It has only been three weeks, but Philly has already given Carson Wentz that, ahem, divine treatment.

The Philadelphia Eagles, fueled once again behind a surgical Wentz performance, crushed the Pittsburgh Steelers 34-3 in a statement game that surely will send a message to the rest of the NFL. Wentz completed 23 of 31 passes for 301 yards and two TDs and once again didn't commit a turnover.

Wentz's first two victories came against the Cleveland Browns and Chicago Bears. This was different.

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Wentz dissected a legitimate Super Bowl contender. And now the Eagles are 3-0, have sole possession of first place in the NFC East and look every bit like a young team that can compete for a playoff spot.

"He can put the ball anywhere, and you have to defend the whole field," Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich said of his rookie quarterback. "He's not afraid to make throws to the side. When they have to defend the whole field, it brings a different dynamic. He's fearless like that, yet he's doing it without forcing anything. That's probably what's most exciting."

Indeed, Wentz has shattered expectations. He has now become the first rookie in league history to throw more than 100 passes without an interception to start his career. He’s the only player to ever have more than 100 attempts, more than 60 completions, five or more touchdowns, and zero interceptions in the first three games of his career.

"I don't think you can say enough," Eagles center Jason Kelce said. "I mean, I know he's getting all the praise in the world right now, but he deserves every single bit he's getting. He has been the most consistent player through these first three games.

"What Carson has done has been incredible, in my opinion, as a rookie. And he has really elevated this whole offense to another level."

Added tight end Brent Celek: "This kid is inspiring me. ... He's adding youth to my game just by the way he's acting, being in the huddle, taking command. It's beyond impressive."

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Remember, this is the same rookie quarterback who, a week before the season started, thought he would spend the entire season on the bench in a de facto redshirt year. It took a devastating injury to Minnesota Vikings starter Teddy Bridgewater for the Eagles to strike a deal that sent incumbent starter Sam Bradford out of town in a package that included a first-round pick.

Philadelphia’s early success, however, is so much more than just Wentz.

The Eagles have built offensive game plans around him that has allowed the rookie to show off his strengths: a rifle arm, accuracy, mobility, the ability to extend plays, analysis of defensive schemes and so much more.

Philadelphia has also made the game manageable for Wentz. The Eagles ran misdirections, short crossing routes, quick throws to the edge, zone-beating posts up the seam, and screen passes Sunday.

So many screens, as Steelers coach Mike Tomlin lamented after the game.

“I think he threw for 300 yards, but I imagine 150 of it were screens to backs and tight ends,” Tomlin said.

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The Eagles also took a few chances down the field, but they're primarily attempting to exploit gaps in opposing zones. That was on display in a third-quarter play that put the game completely out of reach. Holding a 10-point lead, Wentz took a third-down shotgun snap. When a Steelers rusher knifed through the offensive line, he escaped to the right side of the field, pump-faked waited just long enough for running back Darren Sproles to slip past his defender. Wentz lofted a pass down the sideline to the wide-open Sproles, who juked and shimmied his way 73 yards down the field for a touchdown.

“I always want to be a thrower, first,” Wentz said. “Any time a play breaks down, I’m always looking — because that’s where the big plays are happening. Me scrambling, yeah, I might get 5, 10, 15, 20 yards, but I’m not that fast. I want to give it to the guys that can make plays.”

The Eagles now enter their bye week undefeated and full of confidence. On the other side of it awaits consecutive road games against the Detroit Lions and Washington Redskins.

But Philadelphia is riding high for now, and this improbable victory is the biggest reason why.

“We view every week as a measuring stick,” Wentz said, very diplomatically.

“But everyone is starting to play inspired football. Everyone is believing in each other. It has been three great team wins."

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Follow Lorenzo Reyes on Twitter @LorenzoGReyes

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