Sport: Can Eagles' Carson Wentz deliver vs. Cowboys in biggest game of his career?

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PHILADELPHIA – The Eagles drafted Carson Wentz for games like these, when a playoff berth is on the line, when he has to be the one to carry the team. It just seems hard to fathom that it has taken nearly four seasons for Wentz to actually play in one of these games . And yet, there was Wentz earlier in the week, standing at a podium being asked if the Eagles ' game Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys is the biggest of his career . ANOTHER STARTER INJURED: Eagles , agent dispute details of LB Kamu Grugier-Hill season-ending injury.

Wentz has certainly played in big games during his four seasons in the NFL. He was seemingly on pace to win the MVP award in 2017 with 3,296 yards, 33 touchdowns and a 101.9 quarterback rating in 13 games , but a torn ACL suffered in Week 14 A back injury forced the Eagles to shut down Wentz with three games remaining in the regular season last year. Nick Foles led them to four consecutive wins, including a 16-15 victory over the Chicago Bears in the NFC Wild Card Round, after taking over as the starter. The Eagles have been inconsistent through 14 games this season, but their 7-7 record

PHILADELPHIA – The Eagles drafted Carson Wentz for games like these, when a playoff berth is on the line, when he has to be the one to carry the team.

a hand holding a toy: Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz faces his biggest test on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys.© Eric Hartline, USA TODAY Sports Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz faces his biggest test on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys.

It just seems hard to fathom that it has taken nearly four seasons for Wentz to actually play in one of these games.

And yet, there was Wentz earlier in the week, standing at a podium being asked if the Eagles' game Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys is the biggest of his career.

"You could probably say that," Wentz said. "I mean, it’s definitely a big game. We know the situation."

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For the first time in his career , Carson Wentz is healthy for a "winner-take-all" game and Sunday's Week 16 showdown for the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys will determine first place in the NFC East. Wentz has been dealt a bad hand this season with injuries plaguing the Eagles offense since Week 1. DeSean Jackson has played one full game while Alshon Jeffery is out for the year with a foot injury and Nelson Agholor has missed several games with a knee issue. Jeffery and Agholor haven't been productive when they have been playing, making things even more difficult for Wentz as

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The Eagles and Cowboys are tied for first place in the NFC East with 7-7 records.

If the Eagles lose, Dallas will clinch the NFC East title and the automatic playoff berth that goes with it, and the Eagles will be eliminated from playoff contention.

If the Eagles win, then they can clinch the division title on Dec. 29 either with a win over the Giants or a loss by Dallas to Washington.

Fair or not, then, the game against the Cowboys will serve as a referendum on Wentz. He's the quarterback, after all, who signed a $128 million contract extension last June, a record at the time.

Win, and Wentz will be the toast of the region again. Lose, and fans will again question whether he is truly the franchise quarterback, or if the Eagles made the wrong decision by letting Nick Foles leave last winter in free agency.

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Against the hated Cowboys in a must-win game at Lincoln Financial Field, Carson Wentz faces a defining moment - and the Eagles ' quarterback knows it. By Reuben Frank. Although his accuracy and consistency haven't always been where he wants them and the fumbles have been an issue, Wentz has 25 TDs and seven interceptions this year. If he throws fewer than four interceptions in the Eagles ' last two games , he'll join Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Russell Wilson, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers as the sixth player in NFL history with three straight seasons of 20 or more touchdowns and

And yet, so little is known about how will Wentz will perform in such a game. There simply isn't enough evidence.

Wentz has only played a full 16-game season once, and that was in his rookie year in 2016. The Eagles were never a serious playoff contender that season. They were 5-9 before finishing the season with two straight wins.

Wentz was having an MVP-caliber season in 2017 when he tore his ACL in a Dec. 10 game against the Rams. The Eagles were 11-2 at the time, and had just clinched a playoff spot.

Foles took over and the Eagles ended up winning the Super Bowl.

Glimpses, both good and bad

A similar situation developed last season, except Wentz wasn't nearly as successful.

The Eagles were 5-6 under Wentz, who returned in Week 3 from his torn ACL. Then his season was cut short again when he was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his back after the Eagles lost 29-23 in overtime to the Cowboys on Dec. 9.

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PHILADELPHIA -- Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz is not shying away from the notion that Sunday's game against the Dallas Cowboys is the biggest of his career to date. "You could probably say that. It's definitely a big game ," Wentz said Wednesday, as preparations for Week 16's de facto NFC East title But when you've just received a four-year, 8 million contract extension and are operating in an environment where Nick Foles' accomplishments bend perception, there's little room for nuance in public discourse when it comes to Wentz . His teammates, however, are shifting their support for him

The Eagles were 6-7 at the time, and they needed to win their three remaining games to reach the playoffs. Foles, once again, led the Eagles to the postseason, where the Eagles beat the Bears before losing to the Saints.

So, yes, this is the latest Wentz has played in a season since 2016, and with the most on the line.

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"Yeah, I’m excited about it," he said. "The last couple of years didn’t end like I wanted them to personally, obviously, being hurt and everything. So I’m excited to just be playing here in December with what’s at stake and be out there with my guys."

Perhaps we saw a glimpse of how Wentz will handle a game like this, both in the good and the bad.

Wentz rallied the Eagles to fourth-quarter comeback wins – 23-17 in overtime against the Giants on Dec. 9, and 37-27 over Washington last Sunday. Those were his first two wins this season when the Eagles had trailed in the fourth quarter.

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He has done it only six times in his career. As a comparison, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, drafted in the fourth round in 2016, or 133 picks after Wentz at No. 2, has seven such comeback wins. Houston's Deshaun Watson, drafted in 2017, has eight.

For the season, Wentz has completed 63.4 percent of his passes for 3,431 yards with 25 touchdown passes against seven interceptions. His passer rating is 92.3, which ranks 14th among NFL quarterbacks.

But over the last three games, Wentz has completed 65.5 percent of his passes for 901 yards, with eight TDs and one interception for a rating of 99.8. The last two games were must-wins.

"Honestly, I think for Carson, it’s just going to be another game for him," right guard Brandon Brooks said. "I get it’s the Cowboys and everything is on the line. One thing about him is I don’t think any moment is too big for him.

"Come Sunday, I know he’s going to ball out, just like he did every game this year. I’m expecting big things, just like he’s been doing all year."

But there are some ominous signs, too, primarily Wentz's proclivity to fumble.

Since the start of the 2018 season, Wentz has fumbled the most times among NFL quarterbacks, with 23. He has lost 12 of them. That includes 14 fumbles this season, the second most in the NFL. He lost seven.

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His latest fumble, midway through the fourth quarter against Washington, nearly cost the Eagles the game. The Redskins recovered on the Eagles' 34, but the defense held them to a field goal to break a 24-24 tie with 4:52 left.

'Wear teams out and grind salt'

Wentz responded with a long drive that ended with a 4-yard TD pass to Greg Ward with 26 seconds left for the go-ahead touchdown. He completed all eight of his pass attempts on that drive, for 70 yards.

The Eagles couldn't recover from Wentz's fumble early in the first quarter against Dallas on Oct. 20. That gave the Cowboys the ball at the Eagles' 14, and it came after Dallas Goedert fumbled on the Eagles' first possession. The Cowboys scored touchdowns on each turnover in taking a 14-0 lead barely six minutes into the game.

The Eagles ended up losing 37-10.

"I just gotta protect the ball," Wentz said. "When I’m moving in the pocket, I just gotta keep two hands on the ball and be cognizant of who and what’s around me."

If he can do that, the Eagles can control the ball and keep the Cowboys' offense off the field. The Eagles rank second in the NFL in time of possession per game, averaging 33 minutes per game. The Cowboys average an NFL best 434 yards per game.

The Eagles have eight scoring drives of 10 plays or more in the last three games, including four last Sunday against Washington.

Of course, the Eagles don't have a choice. They will likely play their second straight game without their top three wide receivers – DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery are on injured reserve, and Nelson Agholor has missed three of the last four games with a knee injury. He hasn't practiced this week.

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"It’s kind of our identity right now," tight end Zach Ertz said about long drives. "It’s where we’re at from a team and personnel standpoint. Right now, that’s our formula for success, wear teams out and grind salt, which is kind of the mantra that we have. Just doing whatever it takes to get the ball in the end zone.

"Obviously, everyone would love to score in three plays each and every time. Sometimes it’s just not possible, and you gotta run the ball, have long drives, get in third-and-short and find ways to execute. Yeah, it's a little tougher that way, but we’ve been able to do it the past couple weeks."

Wentz has orchestrated all of it.

And that, in turn, has enabled Wentz to put the Eagles in this position, where he's playing in the biggest game of his career, after spending the last two seasons watching someone else lead the team.

Contact Martin Frank at [email protected] Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.

This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Can Eagles' Carson Wentz deliver vs. Cowboys in biggest game of his career?

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