ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the Eagles feared he had sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament, which, if true, would require surgery, no matter how North Dakota tough Wentz may be. Asked about that report, Coach Doug Pederson declined to speculate.
“We knew he wasn’t coming back when he walked into the tunnel,” Philadelphia receiver Torrey Smith said. “When a guy like that goes in — you know how tough he is, he would fight through anything.”
Afterward, Pederson picked an interesting word to describe the mood in the locker room: “jubilation.” It might have been jubilant in those rapturous first few minutes, when Brandon Graham ran off the field flapping his arms like an Eagle, but not after players had showered and dressed, filing out of the locker room with N.F.C. East champion hats atop their heads but stoic looks on their faces.
“I’m excited we won,” said Nick Foles, who took over for Wentz with 13 minutes 58 seconds remaining and guided the Eagles to field goals on the ensuing two possessions, “but at the same time, I’m dealing emotionally with seeing him go down.”
The Eagles are deeper than Oakland was last year, when a Week 16 injury to Derek Carr destroyed the Raiders’ Super Bowl hopes. But Wentz’s potential absence, however long it is, could have a similar effect. It would also reverberate beyond Philadelphia, yanking a marquee player off the field for (probably) the playoffs and upending the N.F.C. postseason race.
The last two weeks have functioned as an abbreviated round-robin, with six of the conference’s top seven teams matching up against one another. The Vikings beat the Falcons, who beat the Saints, who beat the Panthers, who beat the Vikings. The Seahawks beat the Eagles, who beat the Rams, who beat the Saints.
That cannibalization only reinforced Philadelphia’s standing atop the N.F.C. hierarchy. The Eagles had withstood season-ending injuries to starters at left tackle (Jason Peters) and middle linebacker (Jordan Hicks), and to the slippery running back Darren Sproles and to their best special-teams player (Chris Maragos). Still, 11-2. Still, no Wentz.
“Do we have a quarterback on the roster?” safety Malcolm Jenkins said.
“O.K. then,” Jenkins said.
Fortunately for the Eagles, that quarterback is not an anteater. It is Foles, who started the team’s last playoff game, a home defeat to New Orleans four years ago, and whose inability to secure that job long-term initiated a sequence of moves that precipitated Sunday’s tantalizing matchup: Wentz, the second pick in the 2016 draft, opposing Jared Goff, whom the Rams selected No. 1.
In March 2015, Philadelphia traded Foles to the Rams for Sam Bradford, and when neither thrived in their new setting, both teams traded up to select the quarterback they coveted. What the Eagles loved about Wentz, among other things, was his improvisational ability, a sense of how to extend plays within the team’s offensive structure.
That style is enchanting when he dodges pass-rushers or sheds tackles.
“That’s the way he plays,” center Jason Kelce said “That’s one of the things that makes him an incredible player in this league.”
That style is reckless when he puts his body at risk and does not protect the ball, as happened last week in Seattle when it was ripped out as he dived toward the end zone, wiping out a possible touchdown. Or on Sunday, when Morgan Fox and Mark Barron sandwiched Wentz on his 2-yard run for a touchdown that was negated by a penalty.
Pederson noticed that Wentz looked a little “hobbly” when he got up, but teammates said Wentz betrayed no hint of injury when he entered the huddle.
“Didn’t say a word,” receiver Alshon Jeffery said.
If Jeffery noticed Wentz’s feet anchored in the grass as he whipped touchdown pass No. 4 to him moments later, seemingly reluctant to put weight on that knee, he, too, did not say a word.
Foles’s promotion will restrict the Eagles’ ability to call run-pass options, a staple for Wentz. But their staff is confident in Foles. So confident that Pederson, with the Eagles facing third-and-eight at their own 23 with 1:52 left, opted not to force a Rams time out by running the ball, opting instead for a pass. Foles connected with Nelson Agholor for 9 yards and a first down, allowing the Eagles to drain the clock down to 7 seconds before they punted.
In the locker room, Wentz awaited his teammates, and he congratulated them as they arrived. He limped out, his knee entombed in a brace, and fixed himself a plate of Mexican food before being ferried away on a cart. It chugged up a ramp, and toward a team bus. Wentz was there, and then he was gone.