PHILADELPHIA -- The first playoff game of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz's career comes against a Seattle Seahawks team that has had his number. He is 0-3 overall against the Seahawks with four touchdowns to five interceptions and six fumbles (three lost).
Wentz's most recent outing against Seattle -- a 17-9 Week 11 Eagles loss -- was arguably the worst of his career, as he turned the ball over four times while averaging a season-low 4.13 air yards per attempt.
So he needs to shake a pair of monkeys off his back -- both of the postseason and opponent variety -- at 4:40 p.m. ET Sunday (NBC), when the Eagles host the Seahawks in the wild-card round while also carrying the offense on it. A slew of injuries to various Eagles players has Wentz working with an unheralded group that includes five skill position players who spent time on the practice squad this season.
Given those factors, the odds wouldn't seem to be pointing in Wentz's or Philadelphia's favor. But Seattle is facing a different Wentz than they saw even a month ago. In the five games since their last meeting on Nov. 24, Wentz has completed 66% of his throws for 1,509 yards (302 yards per game) with 10 touchdowns to one interception, leading the Eagles to a 4-1 record and an NFC East title despite injuries mounting all around him.
"He's grown up as a leader of this team," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. "You've seen it now over these last couple of games how he's really put the team on his back and said, 'Hey, follow me.' I think that's a sign of growth and a sign of maturity. I spent eight years in Green Bay with Brett Favre, and that's what Brett did. Brett just put the team on his back when the chips were against us and said, 'Hey, follow me,' and that's what Carson can do.
"He's really grown up that way and really matured that way in this league and has really just turned into a pro."
The transformation coincided with the loss of receivers Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor, who joined DeSean Jackson on the sideline down the homestretch, forcing Wentz to make it work with a young group that included receivers Greg Ward and JJ Arcega-Whiteside as well as running backs Miles Sanders and Boston Scott. The dynamics shifted, with Wentz ascending into the clear role of alpha male -- a spot that was cemented when he engineered back-to-back comeback wins against the New York Giants and Washington Redskins that proved to the new core they were in good hands.
"For a lot of these guys, coming from the practice squad, being young, the journeys that a lot of them have been on, I think makes it that much sweeter," Wentz said. "To be a part of guys doing this stuff and doing something special together and buying in, I think it's pretty cool."
Wentz cannot fully step out of the shadow former quarterback Nick Foles cast with his Super Bowl heroics until he delivers on the biggest of stages himself. But he has made it to postseason football after being denied due to injuries the past two seasons -- for which, he mentioned multiple times at his postgame news conference Sunday, he is very thankful -- and has taken command of this team over the past month, earning the full trust of veterans and rookies alike.
"It's been impressive," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "And I think we've needed it as a team. Even when there is a few drives where they're punting the ball, he's not frustrated, he's patient, he's making good decisions, and that's what we've needed in these games. So nobody's been playing better than he has."
And with a win Sunday, Wentz can do two more meaningful things for the first time -- beat the Seahawks and register his first playoff victory.
"I learned that I was hungry to get out there more than anything," said Wentz, of watching the past two postseasons from the sideline. "It was frustrating to watch for me personally, but I'm grateful for this opportunity and we're going to make the most of it."