Pa Ralph Vaciano
FOX Sports NFC East Writer

Carson Wentz thought he had a touchdown the moment the ball left his hands. Ron Rivera seemed to think so too. Neither of them saw the Titans linebacker about to strip Wentz and punt Commanders season to the brim.

“It,” Wentz said after Sunday’s game, “was an emotional roller coaster.”

Welcome to Carson Wentz’s Wild Ride.

In what was a very typical Wentz performance, he gave plenty of fuel to his fans before stoking the fire for his critics. He completed 25 of 38 passes for 359 yards and two touchdowns and led a remarkable 17-play, 87-yard drive that put the Commanders on the verge of a remarkable come-from-behind victory.

Then his final pass from the 2-yard line was intercepted by quarterback David Long at the goal line, allowing the Titans to pull away from Washington with a 21-17 victory.

And just like that, the Chiefs were 1-4, deep in the NFC East basement, wondering if their season was lost. Wentz “had moments,” Rivera said. “There were some things he did very well.”

It’s just the other things and moments that turn the Wentz experience into a sometimes nauseating, dizzying journey.

“I think our quarterback did some good things,” Rivera said Monday afternoon. “There were a few games where he struggled. … But the way he performed yesterday? It just shows what he’s capable of.”

Okay, maybe that’s true. But Rivera still opened ears and eyes Monday when asked why other NFC East teams seem to have been able to rebuild their franchises faster than he was able to do with the Commanders. He gave a one-word answer that captured the headline:


Rivera went on to explain that the Eagles, Giants and Cowboys have had more time to build their quarterbacks, and that includes Dallas, where the Cowboys are 4-0 with backup Cooper Rush. Wentz was with the Commanders for just seven months.

But in 2022, Commanders time is already running out. Wentz’s struggles against the Eagles and Cowboys, his six interceptions (second-worst in the league) and his resulting pick on Sunday set off alarm bells. It also reopened the question of whether the Commanders’ decision to trade for Wentz and his $28.2 million salary cap hit was the right one.

“I don’t feel sorry for our quarterback,” Rivera said. “We chose him because we believe in him.”

Apparently, they made the decision with their eyes open, knowing that the quarterback they acquired from the Indianapolis Colts wasn’t always as good as it seemed at times. It’s true that when he’s good, Wentz can be very, very good. But too often, in big places and big games, either his play or his decisions get really bad.

And that’s exactly what happened Sunday, in a game the Chiefs absolutely had to win. Playing without two of his top targets — a rookie receiver Jahan Dotson and a violent ending Logan Thomas-and with a running back that couldn’t get going at all (17 carries, 43 yards), Wentz did everything he could to win the game. He even threw two touchdown passes to replace Dotson, Demi Brown.

His game was stunning, if you don’t pay attention to the last pass, which of course is impossible. Rivera isn’t wrong that Long made “a heck of a play … he didn’t just play Terry (McLaurin), but he was able to get into a ballgame.” He also defended Wentz’s decision, saying, “If that’s what you’re reading and that’s the throw you’re going to make, that’s a very good decision.”

But was it really? The play was clearly designed to go for the rebound J. D. McKissick, because Wentz never took his eyes off him. And McKissick, lined up to Wentz’s left, was indeed open — though not quite “wide open,” as Rivera described it after the game. He was at about the 2-yard line when Wentz started to wind up, and he was headed for a goal-line collision with Titans cornerback Christian Fulton, who dropped a yard into the end zone but was closing in quickly.

It’s not at all clear that McKissick would have scored or even kept the ball if the pass had gone in, which makes it problematic with 9 seconds left because the Rangers had no timeouts and if it’s over and McKissick doesn’t score, it’s game over. But it didn’t matter because Long, who was lined up inside McKissick, clearly saw where Wentz was looking, pushed away from McLauren and was already back in McKissick’s direction, maybe a yard and a half away when Wentz started to throw.

Did Wentz have to see that? Obviously, it’s easier to describe the play after watching the film in slow motion than seeing the defender in real time. Again, Wentz is being paid that $28.2 million so he can see things quickly and make the right choice.

However, there is more than just one shot in Wentz’s criticism. The Commanders offense has been a mess the past two weeks, coming off losses to the Eagles and Cowboys. And while much of the blame was rightfully placed on the crumbling offensive line — Wentz was sacked 11 times and had 28 hits in those games — the quarterback deserved at least some of the blame for holding onto the ball too long.

But even on Sunday, when he wasn’t pressured as often, there was still a difference between his final stats and results. The Chiefs were a painful 1-of-11 on third downs. Wentz was 3-for-9 for 17 yards on third down, with one fumble, one sack and an interception late in the game. Only one of his three passes was actually a first down, and it was on the final drive with 24 seconds left.

The Chiefs also reached the red zone just once on 11 drives, with passes to Wentz Brown of 30 and 75 yards. And on that lone drive into the red zone on the last drive, Wentz was 0 for 3, with that interception. The Chiefs only got within 2 thanks to a defensive pass interference at the goal line on Fulton on what could have been an unreachable pass.

See the pattern? Wentz’s critics do. He plays great, but not in key spots, especially in really big spots when the game is on the line. It’s a criticism Wentz has heard many times before, and he insisted he’s learned to better handle it over the years.

“I think, never doubt yourself, never lose confidence, always try to be the same,” Wentz said. “Whether you’re winning and you’re on top of the peaks or the bottom of the bottoms, no matter what it looks like, always try to be the same. Come ready to work and keep getting better and never lose confidence.”

While he also has the trust of the commanders. But for long? Part of the appeal of the Commanders’ decision to trade for Wentz was that he had no guaranteed money left on his contract after this season. That means Rivera and the Chiefs will have to decide if he’s the right defenseman, if he can lead them to a championship, and if he’s worth sticking around in 2023.

However, these are questions for later. At this point, Rivera insisted that “you can see how Carson owns the game” and insisted that “he’s starting to understand and feel (the offense).” He seems to believe that, in time, Wentz can be the one to turn the Chiefs into contenders.

“The truth is, it’s a league quarterback,” Rivera said. “If you look at the teams that have been able to sustain success, they’ve been able to build it around a particular quarterback.

“Now we have a guy that we think is a chance to build.”

It just looks like it’s going to take a little longer and it’s probably going to be a very bumpy ride.

Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that he covered the Giants and the NFL for 16 years for the New York Daily News. Follow him on Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.

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