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Receiving yards for Cowboys’ Amari Cooper during Sunday’s 29-23 win over Eagles

Defense saves the day in Wentz’s return

Posted by Gordon Glantz On September 23

Ugly weather, ugly game, ugly win.

But it was all beautiful on the scoreboard, the only place that matters, as the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles got back into the win column with a 20-16 win over the visiting Indianapolis Colts and their first-year head coach, Frank Reich, who put himself at the front of the employment line after serving as the offensive coordinator on Doug Pederson’s staff the last two years.

The defensive struggle was perhaps fitting on a day when Seth Joyner and Clyde Simmons were inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame. The Colts (1-2) came into the game leading the league in third-down percentage and were held to a feeble 2-for-12 success rate. They also only scored one touchdown in five trips into the red zone.

“(The defensive players) understand the sense of urgency down there,” Pederson said during a postgame press conference in which the most of the questions were on the long-awaited return of franchise quarterback Carson Wentz and not on his defense bouncing back after a rough outing a week ago.

The rainy conditions were surely not what Pederson, Wentz or the fans envisioned for his long-anticipated comeback after an ACL injury last December against the Los Angeles Rams that gave him a sideline seat while Nick Foles led the Eagles to that long-elusive crown in Super Bowl LII. But, in spite of the weather, a lack of a full complement of weapons at his disposal and an opposing coach that had a good feel for the playbook, Wentz overcame moments of rust (two turnovers deep in his own end that led to a pair of field goals) and adversity (penalties, consistent pressure from the Colts’ front that led to five sacks) to be sharp when it mattered most, completing all eight of his passes on what would be the game-winning drive.

“It was exciting to get him back there,” said Pederson. “Overall, he did some nice things. For the first time back (in nine months), not too bad.

“As he gets more comfortable with the offense, he is going to get better and better.”

Tight ends play major role

Wentz opened the game in a no-huddle offense that featured three tight ends. Pierced by some strong running by Wendell Smallwood, who got the surprise start in the backfield over Corey Clement, Wentz completed all his passed on the drive to all three tight ends, the last of which was a scoring strike to rookie Dallas Goedert.

“We felt our three tight ends would give us an advantage,” said Pederson. “It worked for us on the first drive.”

Wentz (25-for-37, 255 yards), who said it “felt good to be out there,” admitted to some anxiety coming in, but added that the game plan for the first possession – featuring Goedert, favorite target Zach Ertz (5 catches, 73 yards) and third tight end Josh Perkins (a 10-yard grab for a first down on the first drive) – was ideal.

“We thought it would be something to get me started – and the offense started – fast,” said Wentz (5 for 7 on the first drive), adding that his next goal would be to “clean up the turnovers” and added credit goes to the Colts’ defense for adjusting.

“I thought it went really well, but it was just another game at the end of the day,” he added, equating playing again – and taking hits – to “riding a bike.”

It was also clear from the 12-play drive covering 79 yards that Wentz was going to use his athleticism to buy time in the pocket.

“That’s just him,” said Pederson. “It’s the aggressive nature he plays with. I don’t want to put him in bubble wrap.”

Goedert, who was practically invisible in the Week 2 loss in Tampa Bay, caught a team-high 7 passes – on 7 targets – for 73 yards, along with what will likely be the first of many touchdown catches in his career.

Defensive battle

While the first drive looked almost too easy, the Colts got wise to the Eagles’ somewhat gimmicky offense and the defensive struggle was afoot.

Literally.

By the fourth quarter, 45-year-old Adam Vinatieri had booted three field goals – tying Morten Andersen for the all-time NFL field goal record – to give the Colts a 16-13 lead.

Wentz and Co. then answered back with 17-play drive that ate up over 11 minutes of clock. It included earning first downs on extreme down-and-distance scenarios, some with the help of penalties against the worn-down Colts’ defense, and it was capped on a 4-yard burst up the middle by Smallwood with a little over 3:02 to play.

Overall, it was a strong game for the third-year running back, who gained 56 yards on 10 carries (Clement had 56 on 16 carries) and another 35 yards on 3 catches.

“Wendell has always impressed me,” said Pederson, said of the back who missed most of last season with injuries. “He did it again in training camp this year.”

Colts’ quarterback Andrew Luck, known for his late-game acumen, led Reich’s upstarts back to the red zone for the fifth time but was sacked on fourth-and-goal by Derek Barnett.

“Great play,” gushed Pederson of his 2017 first-round pick. “This kid keeps getting better and better. We’re so excited to have a young player l

We’re so excited to have a young player like Derek. It just like, at some time in the game, No. 96 is going to show up.”

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