Sunday, January 29 2023

By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports Columnist

In less than two weeks, Carson Wentz will come up against the last team he faced – the Jacksonville Jaguars. And exactly two months from today, Wentz will meet the team he was playing for at the time – the Indianapolis Colts.

For Wentz, who is the new starting quarterback for the Washington Commanders, the span between those two games will go a long way in determining whether one of the more divisive players in the NFL will have a shot at restoring his reputation this season, or instead continue down a murky path where his name gets, it seems, continually impugned.

Wentz has heard a lot of criticism over the past few years, and it has turned the idea of him being one of the most dynamic and promising signal-callers in football into a giant question mark.

Once a much-prized No. 2 overall pick, then a player who took the Philadelphia Eagles most of the way through a glorious season before he got injured and Nick Foles led them to a Super Bowl, it has been a spiky and mysterious kind of plummet.

In some ways, it’s not much of a fall at all. Last season, Wentz had the ninth-highest QB rating in the league and threw 27 touchdowns against seven picks. But needing only to beat the league-worst Jaguars on the final day of the campaign to book a playoff spot, he turned in an insipid display and got bumped out of town with indecent haste once the offseason began.

The Colts organization hasn’t been able to stop talking smack about him ever since.

“I think the worst thing you can do is have a mistake and try to keep living with it going forward,” Colts owner Jim Irsay told reporters, after Wentz was traded to the Commanders in a move that effectively cost Washington a pair of third-rounders. “For us, it was something we had to move away from as a franchise. It was very obvious.”

The same sorts of remarks about Wentz that were first heard in Philly quickly surfaced once more – that he’s selfish, ego-driven, and a bad teammate.

As the Colts have welcomed Matt Ryan, it feels like every positive statement about the new quarterback has been twinned with a barely disguised character jab about the old one.

Meanwhile, the talk in Washington has been a work in progress, as a bond with elite receiver Terry McLaurin began to emerge only after some teething troubles in the early part of camp.

Wentz admitted that some of the preseason optics have been less than flashy, leading to concern that at a price tag of $28 million, he still isn’t the answer in a capital city that’s been a QB dead zone for years.

“We’ve put some good, some bad and some ugly out on tape and it’s not been perfect, but I like where we are at,” Wentz told reporters. “I like the mindset, I like the makeup. We’re definitely not perfect, we will be building and growing every week, every time we step out on the field.”

The NFL scheduling computer works in mysterious ways and never fails to conjure up some quirkily delicious matchups. New Panthers QB Baker Mayfield’s reunion with the Cleveland Browns is the pick of the bunch in Week 1, but there is some unavoidable irony in Wentz’s date with the Jaguars, the team that caused him so much ridicule.

The head-to-head with the Colts in Week 8 (4:25 p.m. ET on FOX) will be even more appetizing. Wentz doesn’t exactly wear his heart on his sleeve, but how could he fail to be fired up and determined to prove a point for that one?

Strangely, how Ryan’s first season in Indianapolis plays out will partly convey how Wentz is regarded in absentia. If the former Atlanta Falcons star shines, the removal of Wentz will be further celebrated with glee. If Ryan struggles, however, especially getting used to an offense relying heavily on running back Jonathan Taylor, then it could get interesting.

“What you had is Carson Wentz, a bit of a playmaker,” FS1’s Colin Cowherd said recently, on “The Herd.” “Matt Ryan is not. He’s not going to make some of the mistakes of Wentz but he’s also not going to escape some of the problems that Wentz could. He’s going to be asked to solve issues that are in personnel.”

Expect the anti-Wentz sentiment from Indianapolis to escalate in the coming weeks. For the veteran brigade in Indy, the belief still holds that they were a dependable QB away from making a deep playoff run. That assertion is heavily debatable, but it lingers, and there is bitterness.

For Wentz, a new situation confers an opportunity to alter the script. But if he wants to do so quickly, he’d better deliver in two specific games – where he’s the central character in a fiery narrative.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.


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