Thu. Mar 23rd, 2023

Enough was enough. The Philadelphia Eagles had just secured a first-half shutout with a touchdown catch by DeVonta Smith on the final play when three Washington Commanders fans in Section 412 of FedEx Field headed for the exits — tossing the gold towels the team had handed out upon entry.

So, too, had the fan in Section 208, who stood for the entirety of the first half, mostly banging on a railing and shouting to Eagles fans as a fellow fan attempted to apologize on his behalf.

Amid a packed crowd of mostly green, the burgundy remnants were deflated. Any hope they came in with flew out with the wind as the Commanders collapsed in Sunday’s first half as they had a week earlier, ultimately losing to their NFC East rivals, 24-8, in Carson Wentz’s first game against his original team.

The only difference this time: There was no second-half rally, as there was in last week’s loss at Detroit, no last gasp of belief — especially not from Wentz. The quarterback finished 25 for 43 for 211 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions for a 71.0 passer rating. He was sacked nine times, a career high. His previous high of eight came in the 2020 season opener at FedEx Field, when he was with the Eagles.

Wentz’s showing was both baffling and concerning, and it raised questions about his confidence and emotions while facing his old team. His replacement with Philadelphia, Jalen Hurts, completed 22 of 35 attempts for 340 passing yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 123.5 rating.

Sunday also brought a reminder of a game the Commanders (1-2) had hoped to forget. In last week’s 36-27 loss at Detroit, Wentz was sacked four times in the first half as the offense struggled to create much of anything. Terry McLaurin didn’t have a single target in that span, the defense allowed three plays of at least 23 yards, and the Commanders went into halftime down 22-0.

During Sunday’s first half, in front of a mostly pro-Eagles crowd, Wentz was sacked six times, fumbling once. Yet again, McLaurin was never targeted, largely because his quarterback struggled to get off a pass, and the Commanders allowed five plays of 23 or more yards.

Washington was shut out 24-0 in the first half. Somehow, the Eagles’ lead didn’t fully reflect their domination.

Washington’s defense held up in the first quarter as a depleted line generated pressure on Hurts and the secondary played tight coverage. Benjamin St-Juste, a second-year cornerback who primarily worked in the slot during the season’s first two games, shifted outside because of a back injury to William Jackson III, who was inactive. St-Juste had three pass breakups, two of which were on third and long, sparing Washington from allowing even more big plays.

Analysis from Sunday’s loss

But by the second quarter, the Eagles (3-0) found their groove as Wentz continued to take hit after hit, shutting down the offense before it could get started.

Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox had a hand in the first two sacks, and with Javon Hargrave joining in shortly after, the two made light work of Washington’s guards, Trai Turner and Andrew Norwell, both newcomers. But the accumulation of sacks was not only an offensive line problem. Wentz’s penchant for holding on to the ball too long stressed the line, forcing his tackles to keep defenders at bay for far too long before the pocket collapsed.

Although Washington attempted to run the ball sparingly, with limited success, the Eagles’ expanding lead forced the Commanders to play catch-up. Jump-starting the passing game was necessary, but every attempt sputtered.

Wentz appeared shaken. Short screen passes were thrown into the ground. Deep balls went too deep. Each snap seemed to draw a collective gasp from the hometown fans who had stuck around.

NFL owners’ attitudes harden toward Commanders’ Daniel Snyder

Wentz completed just 3 of 10 passes in the first half, dropping his rating to 39.6 as Hurts collected 279 passing yards and three touchdowns in that span: one to tight end Dallas Goedert, another to receiver A.J. Brown and the third to Smith, who high-pointed a 44-yard pass in double coverage to set up his two-yard touchdown catch on the final play, which began to clear the stands.

It wasn’t until the third quarter that Wentz targeted McLaurin, who finished with six catches for 102 yards. Although Washington’s offense found some traction late, the team’s first points were scored by defensive tackle Daron Payne on a safety — after Washington failed to punch it into the end zone on fourth and one — to make it 24-2.

Some Commanders fans stuck around to witness three more sacks of Wentz before heading for the exits and missing out on Antonio Gibson’s one-yard touchdown run with 1:55 left. They had seen enough.

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