December 06, 2016
Carson Wentz isn't used to losing. Not like this.
In the last nine weeks, the rookie out of North Dakota State has already lost more games than he did in his college and high school careers ... combined. Wentz went 8-3 as a senior at Bismarck Century High School and 20-3 in his two years as the Bisons' starter. Since their Week 4 bye, his Eagles are just 2-7.
And if it seems like the sudden change is beginning to wear on the 23-year-old quarterback, that's because it is according to offensive coordinator Frank Reich.
"Well, for a while I thought he seemed totally unflappable," Reich said Tuesday. "Now, in some of the more recent losses, do you sense that this is, ‘Okay, he's feeling this one, he's feeling this one.’ Yeah, we're all feeling it. I think he was that young, naïve – in a good sense – but still, very mature guy who came in and it was like, ‘Nothing is going to get this guy down.’ But it wears on you. It wears on you. Losing wears on you in this league."
Another reason it could be affecting Wentz is that, by nature, NFL players hate losing. Or at least they should. To have absolutely no emotional reaction to a loss would mean that the player either doesn't care enough or is actually a robot.
Even the best quarterbacks have rough stretches -- Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson, both veteran Super Bowl winners, just this year -- but ultimately it's about how you respond in those situations.
"That's why you've got to have the mental toughness," Reich continued. "You've got to have the mental toughness because it's a grind, and it's especially a grind when you're not winning the games that you want to win and you lose close games.
"You have to have the tenacity to fight out of it and not get too down. He has that."
He better, because losing can be especially tough on quarterbacks. Not only are they always in the spotlight, but they touch the ball on every play. And as Wentz has learned first-hand in his rookie season, once the ball leaves his hand so does whatever semblance of control he once had. Basically, even a perfect pass can bounce off your receivers hands and result in an interception.
"When you're the quarterback and you make a mistake, it's amplified," Reich said. "It's not just like you missed a block or dropped a ball. When you play quarterback, you understand that the mistakes are amplified, so you've got to have thick skin; fight through it. I'm very happy [with his progress] in a lot of respects, but also still have a sense of urgency to keep working with him to get better."
It's never as bad as you think, and it's never as good as you think, because there's always room for improvement, and that goes with me included.
Now, for the first time in his football career, Wentz is learning what it feels like to lose. And how he handles that will speak volumes about what kind of player he will be in the long-term.
"I don't think it's going to affect Carson going forward," head coach Doug Pederson said on Monday. "I just don't think it's going to affect him at all, because he's really a pro's pro and he's learning how to handle adversity for the first time, probably, in his career. It's something that we get to the OTA's and we get a full off-season in and we just continue to work on it."
There's a flip side to this coin, however. And that's the side that Wentz experienced earlier in the season when the Birds jumped out to a 3-0 start and were the talk of not only the football world but the political world as well, getting a shout out from Barack Obama during a Hilary Clinton campaign stop in Philly.
Each comes with its own set of distractions and pitfalls. But is one more worrisome than the other?
"That's a great question because I think it's both," Pederson said. "In this business, you learn how to handle the positive and you learn how to handle the negative, and the way you do it, is you maintain that even keel – a main baseline – and you never get too high and you never get too low.
"It's never as bad as you think, and it's never as good as you think, because there's always room for improvement, and that goes with me included. As I say every week, I look at myself there. But I think we can take a lot of positive from both winning and losing."
Wentz may be a country music fan, but maybe he can take some advice from Chuck D on this one.
"Don't let a win get to your head or a loss to your heart."
Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin