PHILADELPHIA -- Carson Wentz was confident heading into the Philadelphia Eagles’ opener against the Cleveland Browns that the moment would not be too big for him. He called his ability to keep it all in perspective and not get overwhelmed “an inherent characteristic.”
“It’s still just the game of football,” he said.
True, but this is football at a whole different level than what Wentz experienced at North Dakota State, and given that he was elevated from third-stringer to top man just eight days before the start of the season as a result of the Sam Bradford trade, there were doubts as to whether he was ready for what the league was about to throw at him.
Wentz, though, flashed plenty of smiles pregame, casually spinning the football in his right hand as he strolled the field in the hours before his debut as coaches and teammates sought him out to wish him well.
The composure carried over come game time. The second overall pick in this year’s draft went 4-for-5 for 57 yards on his first drive, including a perfect pass to Jordan Matthews in the corner of the end zone for the game's opening score. He finished 22-of-37 for 278 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions (101.0 QB rating) in the Eagles' 29-10 win over the Browns.
"I wasn't really nervous. I really don't get nervous," said Wentz postgame. "I like to listen to worship music before the game to kind of calm my nerves. I just go out and have fun. It's a game and I try to enjoy it. I had a lot of fun today and the turnout was good."
Wentz and the offense cooled as the opening half wore on, but a couple of key plays midway through the third quarter put the energy right back into Lincoln Financial Field. Facing a fourth-and-4 from the Cleveland 40-yard line, Wentz stood in as linebacker Christian Kirksey came in clean on a blitz and delivered a strike to tight end Zach Ertz for a first down. On the very next play, the rookie identified single coverage on receiver Nelson Agholor and floated a perfect ball down the right side for a 35-yard TD.
"I think what was really impressive as a rookie; he had so much poise today," said center Jason Kelce. "I think there were a lot of things that the defense did. They didn't hold back anything, obviously. They were coming after with some blitzes, some situations with some exotic stuff, and he didn't let that get to him. I thought it was tremendously handled; the ups and downs of the game. He did a really good job for us."
The afternoon started with a pregame ceremony on the 15-year anniversary of 9/11 that included vice president Joe Biden -- standing side-by-side with new Eagles coach Doug Pederson -- helping to wave the giant American flag covering the length of the field.
As attention turned to the game, Wentz was greeted with a standing ovation as he took the field for the first time. His first pass was on the money but dropped by Matthews. His second offering -- a back-shoulder toss to Ertz -- was hauled in one-handed by the tight end to kick-start the drive.
Wentz, who missed the bulk of the preseason with a pair of broken ribs, had a few miscues (usually followed by a hard clap of the hands and a talk on the sideline with the other player involved) but showed good command overall. He appeared to make some checks at the line of scrimmage and rarely seemed to be on a different page than his intended target. The fact that the Eagles did not commit a turnover supports that notion.
"It's not surprising, because of us and myself being around him for so long now, and just knowing the maturity level that he has and the things that I was trying to get across to the fans, to the media: This is who he is. This is his DNA," said Pederson.
"And he really handled himself great all week long. He prepared like he was a five, six-year veteran and obviously he played that way."
The Browns are not considered to be a particularly good team, but it was an impressive start for Wentz, who certainly looked like he belonged.