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Carson Wentz could take lessons on handling his demotion from Tony Romo

Martin Frank
Delaware News Journal

There are plenty of examples for Carson Wentz to choose from in dealing with his new existence as a backup quarterback.

It's not a charmed life by any stretch of the imagination. Yet it has been Wentz's reality ever since head coach Doug Pederson benched him in the third quarter against the Green Bay Packers on Dec. 6.

Since then, rookie Jalen Hurts has started twice, and will do so again Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. He'll also most likely start the regular-season finale on Jan. 3 against Washington.

Hurts and the Eagles will be basically facing playoff elimination games against Dallas and possibly Washington. It's a pressured atmosphere for any quarterback, let alone a 22-year-old rookie with only two NFL starts.

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, greets Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz after an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. The Cardinals won 33-26. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Hurts said that doesn't faze him, adding: "I try to stay away from the rat poison," as he referred to the vitriol on social media.

"The kind of crazy part about all of this, and the mentality that I have and I think we have, it’s always about us and what we do," Hurts said. "Controlling what we can, and attacking everything that we do."

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Yet much of Hurts', and thus the Eagles', success also depends on Wentz. If Wentz accepts his situation and is willing to help Hurts, that will go a long way toward team unity. 

Eagles coach Doug Pederson said he has seen that from Wentz, despite an ESPN report last Sunday that Wentz is not happy with the situation and would not want to return if he's not the starting quarterback next season.

"You know, it can (divide a team), if you let it," Pederson said. "That's one thing that Carson has not allowed to happen, and he's not going to let it happen. He's been a pro about it, and he's been very talkative in the meetings, asking the questions just like he had before.

"So we don't let these things really creep into our thinking, and we try to keep them out of the locker room."

Former Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo was demoted in favor of rookie Dak Prescott.

Look to Romo

This same type of dynamic occurred with the Cowboys four years ago, even though the circumstances were somewhat different.

Tony Romo was the franchise quarterback then, and Dak Prescott was a rookie fourth-round pick with not much expected of him. But Romo suffered a back injury during the preseason and Prescott ended up starting the season opener.

The Cowboys got off to an 8-1 start under Prescott, even when Romo, who was 36 years old, was cleared to return. Romo, understandably, was upset at the demotion, just like Wentz was after he was benched in the second half against the Packers.

In fact, they both had similar reactions. After the game against the Packers on Dec. 6, Wentz said: "Obviously, it’s frustrating as a competitor. Just the personality I have, I want to be the guy out there, but it is what it is."

Romo spoke in a tearful press conference in which he acknowledged that Prescott had won the job. 

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) is carted off the field after suffering a severe right leg injury during an NFL football game against the New York Giants, Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. Dallas won 37-34. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

"If you think for a second that I don't want to be out there, then you probably never felt the pure ecstasy of competing and winning," Romo said then. "That hasn't left me. In fact, it may burn more now than ever."

Then he said this about Prescott: "He’s earned the right to be our quarterback. As hard as that is for me to say, he’s earned that right. He’s guided our team to an 8-1 record, and that’s hard to do."

Hurts, of course, hasn't accomplished nearly as much yet.

But the Eagles' second-round draft pick is 1-1 as a starter. The win came against the New Orleans Saints on Dec. 13. At the time, the Saints were 10-2 and on a nine-game winning streak.

Yet Hurts became the second quarterback, joining Baltimore's Lamar Jackson, to run for 100 yards or more in a first start with 106 yards against the Saints. Hurts did it against a team that had gone 55 games without allowing an opposing player to rush for 100 or more. 

Then last Sunday against the Cardinals, Hurts threw for 338 yards and 3 touchdowns, and ran for 63 more yards and another TD, in the Eagles' 33-26 loss.

Wentz, during his 12 starts, was rated among the worst quarterbacks in the NFL. He completed just 57.4% of his passes and still leads the league in both interceptions with 15 and in sacks with 50. Wentz's passer rating is 72.8.

Hurts' completion percentage is actually worse than Wentz's at 55.1%. But Hurts' passer rating is much higher at 92.3, mainly because he has thrown just one interception in 2½ games.

In addition, Hurts is the only quarterback in NFL history to throw for more than 500 yards (505) and rush for more than 150 (169) in his first two starts.

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (2) throws against the Green Bay Packers during an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec 6. 2020, between the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

Hurts and Dak

All of this got the attention of Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy, who said the Cowboys scouted Hurts before the draft last spring. Back then, McCarthy compared Hurts to Prescott, who suffered a broken ankle in October and is out for the season.

"Jalen was held in high regard in our building throughout the draft process," McCarthy said. "That comparable came up a number of times ... You look at their skill set and their ability to play both in the pocket and out of the pocket. They both came from heavy quarterback run systems in college.

"I’ve been really impressed with him since he came into the game against Green Bay and particularly the last one against Arizona."

The comparison to Prescott is just fine with Hurts.

In fact, Hurts said Prescott hosted him on his official visit to Mississippi State back in 2015. Hurts ended up going to Alabama, then transferred to Oklahoma for his final season.

"I have a lot of respect for Dak coming in and doing the things that he’s done," Hurts said. "I’m praying for a healthy recovery for him."

Unlike Romo, who retired after that 2016 season, Wentz does not have to concede the starting job to Hurts beyond this season.

After all, Wentz will turn 28 next week, which is considered to be the start of his prime years. And it's expected that there will be a competition during the spring practices and into training camp to determine the starter for 2021.

The way Wentz approaches the rest of this season and the offseason could play a role in that.

"Something that I really appreciate about Carson is how he's handled this," Pederson said. "He doesn't want to be a distraction to the team, and he wants to help the team win. That's the bottom line."

Contact Martin Frank at mfrank@delawareonline.com. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.