Be it North Dakota or Philadelphia, Carson Wentz belongs on the field: NFL Sunday takeaways

Carson Wentz isn't just outperforming expectations for a rookie, he's playing like an MVP.
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz scrambles while looking to pass against the Chicago Bears last week. Tannen Maury / EPA
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz scrambles while looking to pass against the Chicago Bears last week. Tannen Maury / EPA

Forgive the first-person narrative for a moment, but I doubt too many others in the UAE have a personal account of the first time they watched an ex-North Dakota State quarterback-turned-NFL rookie sensation.

My alma mater, Jacksonville State (it’s in Alabama, I promise), were playing in their first FCS national championship game. I had it on a very, very sketchy stream on my laptop half a world away, hoping to watch live as the small school I went to made some fairly significant history.

Long story short, they lost, and they lost bad, and they lost because the quarterback on the other side was a guy named Carson Wentz. He won five national titles at North Dakota State even though you only get to play four years of college ball.

Granted, this was at college football’s second level, not the top-tier FBS. Wentz looked every bit the part of a stud quarterback against the Jacksonville States of the world, but how would that equate against NFL-level competition? Joe Flacco and Tony Romo are recent precedents that it can work if the talent is special enough, but if tape doesn’t exist for a college player against Alabama or USC or Florida State, it’s near-impossible to project how they’ll fare against the best players in the world.

The Philadelphia Eagles felt Wentz’s experience would translate well enough to make him the second overall pick in the NFL Draft, the highest pick ever for an FCS player. They look pretty smart right now.

Wentz isn’t just the league’s top rookie, he might be the MVP of the NFL three weeks into his professional career, leading the Eagles to one of the most unexpected 3-0 starts in recent memory. The first two wins came against Cleveland and Chicago, maybe the league’s two worst teams. Surely, the rookie would fall back to Earth against the cross-state Steelers.

But the third win legitimised the first two, coming at home Sunday against a Pittsburgh Steelers team some people (ahem) thought were the best in the league. Wentz and the Eagles dominated in a 34-3 win.

Credit should also go to the ageless Darren Sproles, but not many quarterbacks are athletic enough to even get this throw off in the face of this much pressure:

Wentz threw two touchdowns and had his first career 300-yard game. He has five TDs and – even more startling for a rookie – zero interceptions. Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward said Wentz played like a Hall of Famer. Forget regressing to the mean, Wentz has to regress to a level below superb before we dare call this a fluke. Pro Football Focus has him as the NFL’s highest graded passer, with the best grade for a rookie quarterback since they started keeping track in 2006.

The Eagles’ defence will get its due and is surely just as big a reason for their unlikely start, having allowed by far the fewest points in the league at 27. Holding Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown to three points is a feat unto its own. For now, though, it’s Wentz’s world, and we’re all just living in it.

All-purple Super Bowl!

Before the Eagles put on their show in the late afternoon, the most impressive win of the day belonged to the Minnesota Vikings, who continued their 2015 Denver Broncos impression by beating up Cam Newton and the Panthers.

The defending MVP had one of the worst games of his career in the 22-10 loss. Newton threw three interceptions and was sacked eight times. After the game he punished himself by dressing like a 19th Century chimney sweep.

At 3-0 and with wins over the defending NFC champions and biggest division rivals, the Packers, one has to consider the Vikings the team to beat in the conference. That’s remarkable given they had to replace their starting quarterback right before the season and only recently found out Adrian Peterson was probably done for the year. With a dominant defence and Sam Bradford being an improved version of last-year Peyton Manning, there’s no reason the Vikings can’t do what those Broncos did.

The league’s other team brave enough to wear purple, the Baltimore Ravens, are also 3-0, though their path there has been much easier and much less impressive. The Ravens have a 6-point win over the Bills, a 5-point win over the Browns, and a 2-point win over the Jaguars. Those teams are a combined 1-8.

There always seems to be one play-off team that takes advantage of an easy schedule to out-win a more deserving team. The Ravens might be that team this year. They will have the Bengals, Steelers, Chiefs, Raiders and maybe Colts to contest with for a final AFC Wild Card spot, but a 3-0 start gives Baltimore a leg up over all of them so far.

If nothing else, it goes to show how a team’s record isn’t the best indicator of form, especially this early in the year. You can’t deny the Vikings’ undefeated credibility, but the Ravens are fortunate to also be there.

The other rookie

It looks like Tony Romo’s successor in Dallas has already succeeded him.

With Romo again out for an extended period with injury, his replacement, rookie Dak Prescott, continues to impress. He and fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott dominated the Chicago Bears in the Sunday-night game. The rookie fourth-rounder had a 123.6 quarterback rating to help improve Dallas to 2-1?

Have we seen the last of Romo in a Cowboys uniform? Probably.

Play of the day

A double-dose of Andrew Luck-to-TY Hilton. First, this threaded needle for 33 yards in the third quarter:

Then, this game-winning 63-yard connection with 1:13 left to give the Colts their much needed first win of the season:

Stat of the day

Ryan Fitzpatrick threw six interceptions in a loss to the Chiefs, which is bad. But at least he’s in some elite company:

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Published: September 26, 2016 04:00 AM


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