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Torrey Smith delivers as Eagles win NFC East, but thoughts turn to injured Wentz

League MVP candidate is lost for season with knee injury

LOS ANGELES — The hat worn by wide receiver Torrey Smith told part of the Philadelphia Eagles’ story: They’ve won the NFC East.

In a late-season showdown of division leaders that definitely delivered on the pregame hype, the Eagles outlasted the Los Angeles Rams, 43-35, to clinch a playoff berth for the first time in four seasons. And Smith had a big role in the victory that enabled the Eagles to show off the new lids signifying their major accomplishment, totaling season highs with six receptions and 100 yards receiving.

For the Eagles and Smith, that was all great. But the rest of the story wound up being not-so-great: Star quarterback Carson Wentz suffered a knee injury and will be lost for the team’s final three games and the postseason, Eagles coach Doug Pederson announced Monday.

Wentz, arguably the NFL’s leading MVP candidate, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Backup Nick Foles, who replaced Wentz on Sunday, will start for the Eagles on Sunday against the New York Giants.

While celebrating in the ridiculously tiny visitors locker room at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the Eagles’ thoughts simultaneously turned to Wentz.

“There’s always a level of concern when you see arguably the MVP of the league go down,” Smith said. “I hope it’s not too serious. Hopefully it’s just a scare. But when he didn’t go back in the game, it was definitely a little alarming.”

The sirens went off in the closing minutes of the third quarter.

Again, Wentz played brilliantly while outdueling Rams quarterback Jared Goff, his friend and the only player picked ahead of him in the 2016 draft. With 2:28 remaining in the third quarter, Wentz tossed his fourth touchdown pass, a 2-yarder to wideout Alshon Jeffery, that helped the Eagles reclaim the lead, 31-28.

The touchdown pumped up Eagles players and coaches along the sideline, as well as the large contingent of their fans in the old stadium. The mood changed, though, as Philadelphia medical personnel began to examine Wentz, who was hit on the touchdown drive and quickly ruled out of the game. He disappeared into the Coliseum tunnel under his own power and did not return.

Obviously, not good.

“I knew he was hurt,” Smith said. “He didn’t come back in the game, but you don’t know what that means. We knew he wasn’t coming back when he walked into the tunnel. And when a guy like that goes out, with how tough he is and he’ll fight through anything … you just hope he’ll be OK.”

Still, the Eagles had work to do.

“The mood was, ‘We have to win the game,’ ” Smith said. “We love him to death, but ultimately we’re still focused on trying to win the game. During the game, it’s always next man up. After the game, yeah, this is real life. We’re definitely concerned about that. It’s really bigger than football.”

Smith and Wentz had their best connection all season. Smith averaged 16.7 yards per reception and had a long gain of 46 yards. Just before halftime, Smith teamed with Wentz for 61 yards on two plays. That helped put the Eagles in position for a 24-yard field goal. It extended their lead to 24-14 heading into the locker room.

“I had a few opportunities. I was able to make the most of them,” Smith said. “It was big for our team to get some points before the half. I just tried to do my job.”

Smith wasn’t on the receiving end of any of Wentz’s four touchdown passes, which gave him 33 in 2017 and a single-season franchise record. The second-year passer surpassed the previous mark of 32 set by Sonny Jurgensen in 1961.

Wentz has spread the wealth: Four members of the Eagles’ receiving corps have at least 33 receptions, and three have at least seven touchdown receptions. Smith’s favorite numbers? That would be 11-2 — the team’s NFC-best record. After two rough seasons in San Francisco (the 49ers went 7-25 combined), Smith is glad to be with a winner again.

“It was tough,” said Smith, who helped the Baltimore Ravens win the Super Bowl after the 2012 season.

“With San Francisco, I loved everything there, besides the fact we didn’t win as much as you like. There are some great people there. I have a lot of respect for them. But it’s definitely good to be on the winning side of things again.”

Foles did his part to keep the Eagles moving in the right direction. Playing in only his fourth game of the regular season, Foles made some nice throws. The biggest thing was that he didn’t commit a major mistake.

“He’s a vet. He’s going to know where the right read is. He did a great job,” Smith said. “We needed to score [late] to win the game. He was able to help us get in position to do that.

“You think about a guy who hadn’t played all game. His legs were probably super tight, never really expecting to get in. But he was ready, and he really helped us.”

The Eagles have been built the right way around Wentz and already have a championship to prove it. Without him, it’ll be much harder to add another.

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at Andscape. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.