PHILADELPHIA -- During Monday Night Football's Christmas broadcast of Eagles-Raiders, the conversation -- and the camera -- kept coming back to Carson Wentz.
Attending his first game since tearing his ACL in Week 14 against the Los Angeles Rams, the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback watched from a team box (it's not safe on the sideline for a player on crutches), jotting down notes as he followed along. During one of the handful of times his image appeared on screen, the discussion in the booth turned to Wentz's MVP credentials.
"It's hard to argue with that guy up in New England," said Jon Gruden of Tom Brady, "but what he did as a second-year player, I would vote for Carson Wentz. He did it as a runner, he did it as a passer, his audibles, his command at the line of scrimmage, his leadership. It is killing him to not be playing. I hate to see him sitting up there."
Wentz had been a favorite for MVP before getting injured. The fact that he was unable to finish the season lengthens his odds: The latest ESPN poll has Brady first, Rams running back Todd Gurley second and Wentz third in MVP voting.
There is precedent for giving the MVP to someone in a similar situation as Wentz. Joe Montana won the award in 1989 despite missing three games. Like Wentz, he went 11-2 as a starter. Montana led the league in completion rate (70 percent), threw 26 touchdowns to eight interceptions, and established a new record for quarterback rating (112.4).
Wentz (60 percent completion rate, 33 TDs, 7 INT, 101.9 rating) still leads the league in passing touchdowns and third-down TDs (14) even without playing the last two games. He is second in red zone completion percentage (65 percent) and red zone touchdowns (23 TDs vs. zero INTs) as well.
"I still think it's a strong case," said Eagles tight end Zach Ertz. "He's still leading the league in touchdowns. Best record in football, most touchdowns in football. Playing like the MVP.
"With Carson, I mean, nobody picked us to do anything this year. People picked us to be one of the worst teams in the NFC East, and we're 13-2 right now, trying to be the best team in Eagles history. A lot of that stems from him and what he did for us."
Ertz acknowledged the impressive MVP resumes of Brady (67.5 completion percentage, 30 TDs, 8 INTs) and Gurley (1,305 yards rushing, 788 yards receiving, 19 combined touchdowns), as did running back LeGarrette Blount, who endorsed his current QB before coming clean with who he would ultimately cast his vote for.
"I'm a running back, man, I think Gurley should get it," he said. "He's doing some things that you haven't seen around this league in a long time, that you won't see around this league for a long time. He's on the brink of having 1,000 yards rushing, 1,000 yards receiving. He's one of the better players in the league, hands down, not just running backs. I think he should get it."
Besides Montana, John Elway is the only other player to miss three games and still win the MVP. In Elway's case, it was the result of the strike in 1987.
But Wentz deserves consideration. He put up some numbers that still haven't been matched and helped place the Eagles in the driver's seat in the NFC. His value was clear every week he played, and was equally obvious on Christmas night as the offense struggled in his absence.
"There hasn't been a better player on the field when he stepped onto the field this year -- whenever we play someone, he is the best player the moment he steps on," Ertz said. "He gives us a chance to win every single game. That's what a franchise quarterback does, that's what an MVP does."