PHILADELPHIA — Carson Wentz and the unbeaten Philadelphia Eagles were the surprise story in the NFL’s first month.
The hard part now is ignoring the hype.
Before players scattered for rest and relaxation during their bye week, coach Doug Pederson cautioned his team about complacency.
“You think you’ve arrived. You think you are all that. When that creeps in, that’s when you get beat,” Pederson said.
“It’s my job not to let that creep in. I’ve got to keep the guys focused and grounded. I told them they’re going to travel and go home and people are going to pat them on the back and say how great they are. But next Monday, I’m going to tell them: ‘Hey, we’re back to work. We’re 0-0.'”
This was supposed to be a rebuilding season for Philadelphia, especially after Sam Bradford was traded to Minnesota eight days before the season opener and Wentz was elevated from No. 3 quarterback to starter.
But Wentz has far exceeded expectations and rejuvenated the offense. Pederson called his work ethic “Peyton Manning-ish” and eight-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters compared Wentz to Aaron Rodgers.
Wentz is the only rookie quarterback to start and win his team’s first three games without throwing an interception since 1970. He has a 103.8 quarterback rating, five touchdowns and zero turnovers.
The No. 2 overall pick from North Dakota State has captured everyone’s attention with his poise and stellar play.
President Barack Obama gave Wentz a shoutout during a campaign rally for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in Philadelphia.
Vice President Joe Biden, a longtime Eagles fan, was excited following last Sunday’s 34-3 win over Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers.
Biden tweeted : “Heart, guts, and poise from my guy, @CJ_Wentz. Huge game, strong start for the @Eagles. @DrBiden is pumped. It’s our year.”
Wentz returned home to North Dakota to hunt this week and even caught a buck . Pederson isn’t worried about Wentz getting caught up in the spotlight.
“I think he gets it,” Pederson said. “We’ll definitely have those conversations, not only this week, but just as we go.
“It’s my job to shelter him from all the outside noise, from people pulling on his time. The bottom line is we’ve got to keep the main thing the main thing and that’s football. He’s done a great job so far and I expect the same going forward.”
The Eagles began with victories over the Browns (0-3) and Bears (0-3).
Few gave them a chance against the high-powered Steelers (2-1), but Wentz and a ferocious defense dominated. The convincing win turned doubters into believers.
Of the 276 teams to start 3-0 in NFL history, 200 (72.3 percent) have made the playoffs. The Eagles have done it nine times. They missed the playoffs three of the first eight times they started 3-0, including 2014 under Chip Kelly.
“We still can be better. We can grow. We’re not comfortable,” said defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who played for the 2014 team that collapsed in December after a 9-3 start.
“Nobody is comfortable or patting themselves on the back. We know we can be better. We just have to take this bye week, take a little time off to come back and get ready for Detroit.”
While Wentz has been the talk of the NFL, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s defense has been outstanding. Led by Cox and a formidable front seven, the Eagles have shut down opponents. The defense has allowed only 20 points.
“We kind of enjoy flying under the radar, but obviously a win against a team like the Steelers will open some eyes around the league,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said.
“For us, nothing is different. We’ll keep our preparation the same, stick our heads down and focus on the work day to day, and understand what has gotten us to 3-0.”
The road gets tougher for the Eagles when they return to work. They’re home for only one game over the next five weeks.
“I don’t think that far ahead,” Wentz said. “I’m really one that just likes to focus in one week at a time. I think everyone around here was confident and we knew we had the ability, but we just had to keep chopping. ‘Keep chopping away’ is a motto that we have, and we have done a good job of it.”
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