Why the Eagles are playing for Jason Peters, Carson Wentz

PHILADELPHIA -- Lane Johnson’s voice caught when talking about his friend and mentor, Jason Peters, following the Eagles' NFC Championship Game win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday night.

During pregame introductions, Johnson came sprinting out of the tunnel holding up a Peters jersey, a gesture of respect for the veteran left tackle who was lost for the season to an ACL and MCL tear in October. It was a poignant moment made all the more so when Johnson revealed how it came to pass.

"He asked me to," Johnson said. "I would do it a hundred times over if I had to. I just want him to know that he has a special place in this city, he's a special player, and I don't think we'd be here without his leadership and the person he is."

The idea Peters would ask to have his jersey carried onto the field is all you need to know about how much this game means to him and how much it hurts to be sidelined. Peters has Hall of Fame credentials but has never been on the field for a playoff win in his 14-year career, so you can understand if his pain runs a little deeper than most. But he's not alone in what he's going through.

Once all the confetti had landed and the Eagles were officially crowned NFC champs, players began filing in from the field, through the tunnel and into the locker room. Eventually Carson Wentz appeared around the bend, walking with the assistance of a cane, wearing a conference champion hat and T-shirt and slapping hands with fans who had lined the corridor. Mission accomplished, but not in the way the MVP candidate had envisioned.

Wentz has remained a contributor since tearing his ACL in Week 14 against the Los Angeles Rams. He was on field level the past couple games, headset on and troubleshooting with the other quarterbacks on the sideline. He is in the building at 6 a.m. during the week and remains a presence in the quarterback room. According to coach Doug Pederson, he speaks with Nick Foles throughout the day as the team preps for the next opponent.

"Carson's there every day, and that's important because I've seen guys who get hurt, it's hard for them to have a huge investment in the team. They're not playing. It's hard to watch other people on tape and do all that," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "Obviously, where we are right now, a lot of that was on Carson's back, so we want to make sure that we don't exclude him in everything that's happening right now."

The list of key players lost this season is striking: Wentz, Peters, running back Darren Sproles, linebacker Jordan Hicks and special teams ace Chris Maragos all had their seasons cut short.

"We have an All-Pro team on the IR," tight end Zach Ertz said.

Added Johnson: "If we had those guys, it wouldn't even be close. I think those guys would be getting demolished even worse than what it is. I think it comes down to, it's a brotherhood. We have a lot of close friends, guys that we care about, and I think if you have guys that you care about, you're going to put in extra effort to see things through and make them happy, and I think that's what this team is all about."

Wentz, Peters and Maragos -- three of the team's captains -- continue to represent the team during the coin toss, and they again walked to midfield prior to Sunday's game against the Vikings. The next time they took the field, the game had been decided and the stage was being set up for the presentation of the George Halas trophy. But teammates and coaches have ensured that they have remained part of the experience.

"I know it's tough for them. My rookie year, I was hurt during the NFC Championship, and I remember how almost disconnected I felt from the game. I was super elated to go to the Super Bowl, but not actually being on the field, there was a disconnect," Jenkins said. "So for all the things we've had go on this year, for them to not be able to be on the field and share that with us, we understand what that feels like, and we want to make sure that they feel included and feel like we've got their back and they're just as much a part of this as anybody else. Which they are because their leadership has continued to be a piece of everything we do."