When Eagles coach Doug Pederson named Jalen Hurts his starting quarterback this week, he made it clear that this wasn’t a long-term decision. Pederson specifically called Hurts the starter “this week against New Orleans,” and said he only hoped his second-round rookie could provide a “spark” for Philly’s stagnant offense. On Sunday, Hurts did exactly that.
Hurts led the Eagles to a 24-21 win over the NFC-leading Saints, giving Philadelphia its most impressive performance of the season and keeping the squad’s longshot playoff hopes alive. And while Hurts’s final passing line—17-of-30 for 167 yards and a touchdown—doesn’t jump off the page, he was exactly the defibrillator the team needed. Hurts added 106 yards on the ground on 18 carries and led scoring drives on three of the team’s first five possessions. That Hurts did this against the no. 2 defense in the league and a squad that was in the pole position in the conference makes it all the more impressive, and should give Philly fans a sign of hope in an otherwise abysmal season.
Hurts was most impressive on the ground on Sunday, but his best play came through the air. On a fourth-and-2 in the second quarter, Hurts dropped back to pass and was immediately met by Saints linebacker Kwon Alexander. Rather than take a sack, though, Hurts launched the ball into the air just before Alexander arrived and found wideout Alshon Jeffery in the end zone:
On the ground, Hurts’s ability to scramble kept Philly alive at points in this game, compensating for a paper-thin offensive line that has been marred by injuries and ineffective play for much of the season. With 57 seconds left in the second quarter and a 17-0 lead, Hurts gained 24 yards on a pair of passing plays. Then he picked up clutch first downs on back-to-back scrambles. On the first, Hurts evaded pressure, escaped to his left, and turned upfield for a gain of 24 yards.
On the second, Hurts rushed up the middle for 16, putting Philly in striking distance once again.
Unfortunately for the Eagles, Hurts’s end zone shot fell incomplete, and kicker Jake Elliott’s field goal attempt bounced off the upright. But while this drive netted the Eagles no points, the series was only possible with Hurts, not Wentz, under center. Hurts’s creative playmaking against one of the best defenses in football showed the potential of the former Oklahoma quarterback.
Of course, Hurts did not win the game by himself. The Eagles’ defense forced two turnovers out of the typically mistake-free Saints, and Miles Sanders added two touchdowns and 115 yards on the ground. Sanders’s 82-yard house call near the end of the second half broke the game wide open for Philly.
In total, the Eagles gained 413 yards of offense against a defense that entered the day allowing just 289 per game. Hurts made just one real mistake—a fumble late in the fourth quarter that gave New Orleans a last gasp of life—but otherwise appeared to be everything Eagles fans could hope for. That should make the decision about who is the starting quarterback going forward an easy one for Pederson … so of course, the coach refused to commit to either Hurts or Wentz after the game:
Doug Pederson won’t say if Jalen Hurts is the Eagles’ starting QB for next week against the Cardinals.— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) December 14, 2020
Hurts seemed to earn the starting job today, but apparently Pederson wants to see more. I’m not sure what it could be. Entering the week, the coach said he was looking for a spark for his offense—and that’s exactly what Hurts provided.