LOS ANGELES -- Carson Wentz was the first person to greet his teammates as they filed into the tiny visitors locker room at the Coliseum to begin the celebration.
The Philadelphia Eagles had overcome the loss of their leader and beaten the Los Angeles Rams in a wild 43-35 shootout -- clinching the division in the process. Wentz, who was wearing a big, black brace around his left knee and an "NFC East Champs" hat, congratulated his teammates one by one as they walked through the door.
"I just told him when I saw him at the stairwell, 'We did that for you, man,'" safety Rodney McLeod said.
"He just gave me a smile and just said, 'Good job.' Short and simple."
A few moments later, Wentz was loaded onto a cart and driven up the hill toward the team bus. He walked the last few paces himself, disappearing behind the iron fence and into the night.
Players seemed to be wrestling with two conflicting emotions: Joy over accomplishing a team goal in exhilarating fashion, and sadness over losing Wentz in the process. He had an MRI on Monday that revealed their fear, a torn ACL.
Interestingly, though, no one came across as deflated. If anything stood out in the postgame swirl, it was the team's resolve.
"We got the win for him. We're going to move on and whatever happens, happens. Next-man up mentality," McLeod said. "That's been the story of us this entire season. We're not going to miss a beat at all and we're just going to keep this thing rolling."
In order to do so, they'll need quality play out of backup Nick Foles, whose story has come full circle. A third-round pick by Philly in 2012, Foles started 24 games over three seasons for the Eagles, including 10 in 2013 when he threw an improbable 27 touchdowns to two interceptions. He came crashing back down to earth as the surprise element of Chip Kelly's offense wore off. Foles had an average year in 2014, struggled in 2015 after being traded to the then St. Louis Rams, was benched and then later released. He served as a backup for the Kansas City Chiefs last season before taking on the same role in Philadelphia this season.
He will be back at the controls, and in charge of leading a first-place team with Super Bowl aspirations.
"I'm absolutely ready," said Foles, who went 6-of-10 for 42 yards in a relief appearance against his former squad. "That's why I'm here. I'm ready to go. Prepare every day, work every day so I'm ready to go if need be."
The dropoff from Wentz to Foles is undeniable. Wentz was a legitimate MVP candidate and playing the position about as well as anyone in the league. Immediately, the conversation began externally: Which NFC team should be considered the favorite should Wentz be sidelined for the season? The 10-3 Minnesota Vikings are a popular choice.
It should be noted, though, that the Vikings are essentially on their third choice at quarterback. Sam Bradford was the guy before he got hurt, and the idea was to insert Teddy Bridgewater into the lineup when he got healthy. Case Keenum, however, has played too well to justify the move. They were written off when injury struck the most important position, but have found a way to make it work thanks in large part to a stout defense and deep roster.
The Eagles believe that, with tweaks to their approach, they can accentuate different strengths and maintain a high level of play.
"Offensively, there's going to be some things that we'll probably change around just because Nick doesn't have some of the abilities of Carson when you talk about mobility and all of that," safety Malcolm Jenkins said.
"Going to run the ball more and rely on these great backs that we have on the team. Our defense needs to step up and be the defense that we've been all year."
At season's end, they might look back at this December night in Los Angeles and concede it was the beginning of the end to their championship run. In this moment, they're pushing forward believing they have enough good players to get the job done.
"At the end of the day, it doesn't change any of our goals," Jenkins said. "It sucks, more so for Carson as a person, as a friend and as a teammate, and what he puts into the game, his preparation, to not have him or to see him go down in that fashion, right where we are on a night like this, it sucks for him. But as a team, we still have all our goals out in front of us."