By Ralph Vacchiano
FOX Sports NFC East Writer
ASHBURN, Va. — Carson Wentz did his best this week to “try not to make the game bigger than (it) needs to be.” But the more he talked, the more he tried to conceal his emotions, the more the reality of this game became obvious.
This is big.
How could it not be? A year and a half after the Philadelphia Eagles traded him, the 29-year-old Wentz will face his old team for the first time on Sunday afternoon. He was once an MVP candidate in Philly, their no-doubt Quarterback of the Future. Now he’s trying to resurrect his career with the Washington Commanders, his third team in three years.
Of course he wants to show the Eagles they were wrong. Of course he wants to show them what they threw away. And against a very good defense that shut down the Minnesota Vikings Monday night and picked off quarterback Kirk Cousins three times, of course Wentz wants to make a statement to the Commanders and everyone that he still can be a franchise quarterback.
“I heard where he said he’s approaching this as you would approach any other team,” said Commanders offensive coordinator Scott Turner. “Obviously we know that’s not the case. I mean, you know, everyone is a human being.”
“When you’re playing against your old team, of course you feel something,” said Washington receiver Curtis Samuel. “I get it. But he’s locked in, focused. He’s how he always is: Calm.”
Maybe that was true during practice this week, but it remains to be seen just how calm Wentz will be on Sunday. This week dredged up a lot of old feelings for him, which he admitted when he spoke about his “wild ride” in Philadelphia during his press conference on Wednesday.
The “wild” story of what happened to Wentz in Philly is well-known, and still a bit bizarre. He was once everything in that organization. They traded up in the 2016 draft to take him with the second overall pick. A year later he showed everyone why, with an MVP-caliber performance leading the Eagles to an 11-2 start. But then he injured his knee and had to watch as Nick Foles finished the job and led Philly to a Super Bowl title.
The next three years were up and down. Reports surfaced of tension between him and his teammates, as well as problems he had with the coaching staff. His play was up and down and the Eagles’ front office took notice. In the 2020 draft they took quarterback Jalen Hurts in the second round. And that season, Wentz struggled, the Eagles went 3-8-1 under his direction, and by Week 14 he was on the bench for good.
Then he was gone — shipped off to Indianapolis in an offseason move he admitted caught him “off guard”.
“I think anytime in life you get thrown a curveball like that, things change anytime you think you know what life’s going to look like,” Wentz said. “I think that’s where my faith kicks in and just saying, ‘OK, God, what do you have next for me?’ I definitely cherished my time that I had up there (in Philadelphia).
“It was definitely a wild ride in many, many ways.”
Throw in his turbulent one-year stay in Indianapolis and Wentz admitted his whole career “has been a whirlwind.” But he sure has seemed to find a home in Washington. The Commanders appear to be committed to him, not just for this year. They believe he can be their franchise quarterback for years to come.
And he’s been good through the first two games. He’s second in the NFL with 650 passing yards, and tied for the lead with seven touchdown passes. He has thrown three interceptions through two games, but the Commanders’ offense is clicking. They rank sixth in total yards and are averaging 27.5 points per game.
This game would be different, though. Doing it against a top-tier defense in what surely will be an emotionally charged division game would say a lot about how far Wentz has come.
And doing against the team that cast him aside? That would have to be even sweeter.
“I’ve coached different teams in this league, and I know how I feel when I get ready to go against some of the teams that I’ve coached for before,” Turner said. “I can only imagine it’s (amplified) when you’re a player.”
The Eagles know it, too — especially those who remember when Wentz was their guy. Several of them admitted to looking forward to this game against their old quarterback. A few of them said they called him or texted him this week already. They’re aware, given the circumstances of his departure, that this isn’t just any other game, for them or for him.
“I know I’ve probably played some quarterbacks that’s been here, but not like this situation,” defensive end Brandon Graham said. “This situation is totally different, with him and the way it ended.”
So how will Wentz handle it? The Eagles want to find out, too. They know he can be turnover-prone at times and shaky in some big spots. Multiple Eagles defenders said they’re anxious to see if Wentz looks calm or rattled lining up against his old team. They didn’t think he’d let his emotions get the best of him. And it will certainly help that his first game against the Eagles is at FedEx Field, and not in Philly against a loud, angry crowd.
But even Wentz conceded the emotions will be heightened, regardless of where the game is played.
“Definitely will have some mixed emotions,” he said. “But nothing crazy jumps out other than my time there was a whirlwind. It was wild.”
How significant will those “mixed emotions” be when he takes his first snap against the team he once thought he’d play with forever?
“We’ll find out,” Wentz said. “We’ll find out.”
Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys. He spent 22 years covering the Giants, Jets and NFL at large for SNY and the New York Daily News. He can be found on Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.
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