PHILADELPHIA -- In a week when Andrew Luck and Deshaun Watson were lost for the season, when one team traded and one team failed to trade for a starting quarterback, the Denver Broncos and Philadelphia Eagles provided the perfect coda. This game was a reminder of why there is so much hand wringing and high anxiety around quarterbacks, why the particulars of Luck's labrum and Watson's knee ligament, of Jimmy Garoppolo's playing future for San Francisco and Cleveland's botched trade for AJ McCarron will keep coaches awake at nights, the fortunes of their franchises hanging in the balance.
Here, then, was a snapshot of what happens to teams that have their quarterback situation settled and what happens to those that do not. The Eagles scored 51 points, with Carson Wentz tossing four touchdown passes against the NFL's top-ranked defense. At 8-1, they have the best record in the NFL heading into their bye and appear nearly certain to be going to the playoffs, with fans chanting "We Want Dallas" in the closing minutes.
The Broncos scored 23 points, with Brock Osweiler, for whom they benched Trevor Siemian last week, throwing two interceptions. The poor offensive performance -- 226 yards total -- exposed a defense that, despite the impressive statistics, put up no resistance against the Eagles and have a visit from the New England Patriots on the horizon. The Broncos are 3-5 and stuck hoping that Paxton Lynch, who is recovering from a shoulder injury and has barely practiced, can soon be ready, both physically and mentally, to take over the offense. And, at least privately, they have to start thinking about how active they will be in the market for a quarterback this offseason.
In the Broncos' locker room, there was talk of hitting rock bottom and of having the feeling the Eagles knew exactly what their defense would do. What makes the Eagles' offense so difficult to defend is the multiplicity of options at Wentz's disposal. Four different runners -- not including Wentz and backup Nick Foles -- carried the ball for the Eagles on Sunday, and head coach Doug Pederson used a variety of sprint outs and roll outs to keep Wentz away from the Broncos' formidable front. One touchdown, a two-yarder by Corey Clement, came on an option pitch. Another came on a well-designed and well-executed screen to Clement, who ran through the center of the Broncos defense for a 15-yard touchdown. The trade deadline addition to the brood, Jay Ajayi, ran for 77 yards, including a 46-yard touchdown run. He is such an explosive player that Eagles cornerback Malcolm Jenkins started him on his own fantasy team Sunday.
"We do feel we can keep spreading the ball around," Wentz said. "It makes us really tough to defend."
Wentz was modest enough to say that there were some plays he would like back, although it would be hard to find those, particularly in the first half, when the Eagles took a 31-9 lead. It was obvious almost immediately that the Eagles intended to take away the run to force Osweiler to beat them with his arm. The Broncos turned to Osweiler in desperation last week, after Siemian threw three interceptions against Kansas City. The Broncos are left with few other options until Lynch is ready to go. The second-year passer is inexperienced and his command of the offense is undetermined. But the Broncos are slipping further and further behind the Chiefs in the AFC West, and Coach Vance Joseph could not even commit to Osweiler starting next week against the Patriots.
"We'll see," Joseph said. "I have to go back and watch the tape and see how the game was played from that position before I make any decisions.
That the Eagles would win this matchup should not come as a surprise. What was shocking, though, was how easily they shredded Denver's defense, racking up 419 total yards (197 rushing) and an average of 6.3 yards per play. It was a startling collapse by the Broncos, and it went beyond the efficiency Wentz extolled and the lack of firepower from Osweiler. Asked if he thought his defense quit, Joseph would not refute it.
"I told the team after the football game that every man has to do a self check," Joseph said. "Only each man would know what his heart said to him in the fourth quarter there, so that's where I'll leave that."
"We knew that their offense would go through the tight ends, so that part did not surprise me," Joseph added. "It surprised me that we couldn't stop the run game, and that was a bigger issue to me. They had a great plan in the run and pass game alike, and they exposed us."
It probably won't be the last time an opponent says that of a Wentz-led team, and it may not even be the last time it is said of the Eagles this season. In a year without an overwhelming favorite, the Eagles are as close to dominance as the NFL has right now. They are averaging 31.4 points per game, and they have not scored fewer than 26 points during their seven-game winning streak.
That is a far more comfortable spot to be in than the one the Broncos find themselves in. The Eagles will return from their Week 10 bye with perhaps the most critical game on their schedule -- a Sunday night showdown in Dallas against the only team in the NFC East with a shot at catching the Eagles. Jenkins said he hopes running back Ezekiel Elliott is eligible to play in that game and not serving his six-game suspension because "to be the best, you've got to beat the best."