The only people surprised by what happened with Carson Wentz on Sunday might have been the Washington Commanders. And that's the problem.
The decision to trade for Wentz isn't the worst move made by an NFL team over the past year, but it's a great example of why the Commanders haven't been good for decades.
Wentz threw three interceptions and he never gave the Commanders a chance Sunday in a game against the Cleveland Browns that was critical to their playoff hopes. The Browns came in with a 6-9 record. The Commanders were at home. And they were brutal, mostly because of their quarterback. The Browns won 24-10, pushing the Commanders to 7-8-1.
And it was all predictable, going back to the offseason trade. The Indianapolis Colts couldn't wait to get rid of Wentz or hide their desire to dump him. That was after the Philadelphia Eagles couldn't wait to get rid of him. Yet the Commanders stunned the NFL by trading second- and third-round draft picks in 2022 and a conditional 2023 third-rounder to the Colts for Wentz, a second- and seventh-round pick. They got no discount on the contract either; Washington picked up Wentz's $22 million salary as part of the deal.
Everyone seemed to instantly hate the trade for Washington, and it has played out exactly as critics said it would.
The hardest part for Commanders fans, the few who remain after decades of ruinous behavior with the fan base anyway, is that an NFL front office couldn't see what everyone else did about Wentz. He has been a mediocre, mistake-prone quarterback for a long time. During the season the Commanders turned to Taylor Heinicke — who they had a chance to evaluate all last season — when Wentz was injured and effectively benched Wentz once he was healthy. Wentz got some mop-up duty last week against the San Francisco 49ers and that led to head coach Ron Rivera deciding to give Wentz another shot.
The Commanders needed any spark as their season fell apart, but it was obvious Wentz wouldn't be the answer. And he wasn't.
It also wasn't the best look when Rivera, a respected coach stuck on a bad franchise, didn't seem to know the Commanders could be eliminated from the playoff race on Sunday.
Rivera tried clearing up what he meant after that comment.
Ron Rivera clarified his postgame remark about not knowing they could be eliminated. Said he was frustrated by the question; said he didn't know they could be eliminated because he thought they would win & only focused on what would happen IF they won. Didn't consider alternative
— John Keim (@john_keim) January 1, 2023
Regardless, it's just another in a long line of bad looks for the Commanders.
Teams can rebuild fast in the NFL. It's what gives all fan bases hope. Years of bad decisions can be turned around by a great draft or two. To do that, a club needs the right decision makers. At this point, how could anyone trust a Commanders franchise that couldn't see that acquiring Wentz was a miserable decision when everyone else knew it? It seems hard to believe they'll suddenly start making brilliant moves to turn the franchise around.
This has been the Washington franchise for the entirety of Daniel Snyder's ownership. Fans are used to being let down. Seeing the season basically end with a trio of Wentz interceptions was another episode in a series that most Commanders fans have turned off by now.
Here are the rest of the winners and losers from Week 17 of the NFL season:
Seattle Seahawks defense: When the Seahawks went into a slump, their offense wasn’t great. It was mostly the defense that slipped.
On Sunday, Seattle’s defense played like it did early in the season The group made big plays, got pressure on the quarterback and generally shut down the New York Jets in a 23-6 win. New York had just 279 yards. The Jets were eliminated with the loss. The Seahawks are still alive, though they’ll need a Packers loss next week.
The Seahawks started this season well. It’s a disappointment that they go into Week 18 needing help, thanks to a late-season slump, but at least they’re still alive.
Austin Ekeler: There was a question if Ekeler would play this weekend. His knee was banged up and the Los Angeles Chargers had their playoff spot clinched.
But, as he said on the “Yahoo Fantasy Football Forecast,” he wanted to play in Week 17. And he played well.
Ekeler scored two early touchdowns, including a 72-yarder, and that ensured the Chargers weren’t going to lose to the Los Angeles Rams. They won 31-10.
We’ll see what the Chargers do with their starters in Week 18, but at least we know Ekeler is healthy.
Daniel Jones: It's hard to know what the New York Giants will do with Jones next offseason. But after Sunday, here's what has to be said: Jones is a big reason why the Giants are back in the playoffs.
Jones, working with a receiving corps that is one of the worst in the NFL, had a big day in the Giants' easy 38-10 win over the Indianapolis Colts. That clinched a playoff spot for the Giants.
Jones had 131 passing yards and two touchdowns at halftime to go along with 34 rushing yards. The Giants led 24-3. The Giants didn't pick up the fifth-year option on Jones' rookie deal and now have to decide whether to re-sign Jones, franchise-tag him or let him go.
Dallas Cowboys: After a season of figuring the Philadelphia Eagles had the NFC East wrapped up, the Cowboys will enter Week 18 alive for the division title.
It's a shocking turn of events made possible by a bad 20-10 loss by the Eagles on Sunday to the New Orleans Saints. Gardner Minshew II, who played well last week at Dallas, was bad against the Saints. His pick-six in the fourth quarter sealed the win for the Saints. He and the rest of the Eagles had their worst game of the season. The Eagles need Jalen Hurts back.
Perhaps that happens next week. Hurts seemed close to a return from a shoulder injury. The Eagles should be fine. They face a Giants team that has its playoff spot clinched and could sit starters. The fact that it has taken this long to clinch the division is troubling for Philadelphia.
The Detroit Lions' playoff chances: The way Lions head coach Dan Campbell enthusiastically greeted Panthers head coach Steve Wilks at midfield last week, congratulating Wilks for his Panthers kicking the Lions' behinds, you knew Detroit would not be flat in Week 17.
The Lions bounced back and kept their playoff hopes alive. They looked like a different team than the one that got run out by the Panthers last week, routing the Chicago Bears 41-10.
Campbell is a motivator and while that means he deserves some blame for his team being so bad last week, it wasn't going to happen two consecutive weekends. He won't need any additional motivation for his team for next week's game at the Green Bay Packers.
Mike Evans: Not much has been good about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this season. It looked for a long time on Sunday like they might lose to the Carolina Panthers, and the Panthers would have taken control of the NFC South with a week to go.
Evans bailed out the Bucs. He had 207 yards and three touchdowns in a 30-24 comeback win that clinched the NFC South. Tom Brady's career will include at least one more playoff berth.
The Buccaneers might not be good enough to win in the playoffs. But thanks to one of the great games of Evans' phenomenal career, they'll get a chance to find out.
Kirk Cousins: He gets more criticism than he deserves. Then he has a game like Sunday and it’s hard to argue with those who incessantly dunk on him.
Cousins was brutal on Sunday in a 41-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers, which keeps the Packers’ playoff hopes alive. Green Bay is in the playoffs if they beat the Detroit Lions in Week 18.
The Packers' defense played well, but Cousins looked lost. When Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander locked up Justin Jefferson, Cousins had no chance. He threw a meaningless touchdown late in the fourth quarter, but the Vikings trailed 41-3 by then. Cousins was bad and a big reason the Packers led by 38.
That was fuel the notion that Cousins will inevitably shrink in the playoffs. Sunday’s game is certainly not a great sign.
Jarrett Stidham, but only for one play: Stidham played about as well as anyone could have ever hoped Sunday.
Replacing Derek Carr as the Las Vegas Raiders’ quarterback, he was given a tough assignment against the San Francisco 49ers’ stellar defense. And he played very well. He led the Raiders to 34 points. The Raiders took the 49ers to overtime.
And then in overtime, Stidham made his one big mistake. Under pressure, Stidham was hit on the follow-through on a deep pass to Davante Adams and that affected the throw. Safety Tashaun Gipson had an easy interception on the underthrown pass and a long return set up a game-winning field goal. The 49ers won 37-34.
It was still a good outing for Stidham, who had 365 yards and three touchdowns. It will quiet a lot of the criticism for the Carr benching.
Dolphins and their never-ending QB injuries: At one point it seemed impossible to believe the Miami Dolphins could miss the playoffs. It's on the table now.
Miami is in trouble after falling 23-21 to a New England Patriots team that will be in the playoffs with a win over the Buffalo Bills next week. The Dolphins played without Tua Tagovailoa, who has a concussion, and lost Teddy Bridgewater to a finger injury as he tried to make a tackle on a pick-six. Rookie Skylar Thompson came in. That's the second time this season Bridgewater, replacing Tagovailoa, has gotten hurt during a game and Thompson had to finish for him.
The Dolphins have not played well and haven't had much luck lately either. Now their playoff spot that looked like a lock for most of the season is in jeopardy.
Lovie Smith: It's rare to see a team fire a coach after just one season two straight years. Since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger it has happened only twice (both times it was the San Francisco 49ers, including after the 2015 and 2016 seasons).
The Houston Texans have to consider joining that group. Smith was hired out of the blue last offseason after he was the coordinator of a bad defense for the 2021 Texans. The best thing to say about the 2022 Texans is they're well on their way to getting the franchise a much-needed No. 1 overall draft pick.
The Texans were awful again Sunday in a 31-3 loss against a Jacksonville Jaguars team that didn't have much to play for before next week's AFC South championship game against the Tennessee Titans. The Texans have played a few close games lately and maybe that's enough to get Smith a second season as Houston's head coach. But if Smith got fired after one season, it wouldn't be a surprise.
Kliff Kingsbury: Speaking of head coaches on the hot seat, the Arizona Cardinals fell to 4-12 and Kingsbury can't be feeling good about his future. If he even wants to be the Cardinals' coach anymore.
Arizona battled hard in a 20-19 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, and the Cardinals had to start David Blough at quarterback due to injuries, but it's not like a close call against a bad Falcons team makes anything look better. This season has been horrible for the Cardinals and it doesn't look good on Kingsbury.
Denver Broncos, but with signs of life post-Nathaniel Hackett: The Broncos aren't the first team to look good right after firing a head coach. That move is a wake-up call for everyone.
But it doesn't look great for Hackett that the Broncos played probably their best game of the season on Sunday after he was fired. For awhile, the Broncos looked like they might upset the Chiefs in Kansas City before K.C. took a lead. A bad Russell Wilson interception led to a turning-point touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Denver still had the ball trailing 27-24 late in the game but couldn't get a drive going. The Broncos lost but they looked like they belonged on the field with the Chiefs, which is a big change from the first 16 weeks of the season. The most damning moment for Hackett might have came when tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, a talented and popular 2022 breakout pick who was not even active since Week 5, scored a go-ahead touchdown. Maybe Hackett couldn't evaluate the talent on hand, in addition to his other shortcomings.
For Broncos fans who have to hope that the team's problems were almost all on the head coach, Sunday gave them hope.