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December 20, 2020

Jalen Hurts is the real deal, and the Eagles' quarterback drama may never end

Sunday afternoon's disappointing loss to the Cardinals did two very important things.

First, the 33-26 setback kept the Eagles in the seventh slot in NFL Draft positioning. A win would have jettisoned them up above 12. 

But second, and much more impactful on the state of the Eagles franchise, was the coming out party fans saw from Jalen Hurts in Arizona, as the rookie showed he was not only worthy of being a second-round draft choice, but also that he could very well be the future of the franchise.

Only in Philadelphia could a football Sunday begin with a report of Carson Wentz demanding a trade, and end with his backup losing a game impressively enough to the make the future of Wentz seem almost irrelevant.

Hurts started slow, as did the Eagles, falling behind 16-0 in the first quarter. But then the sleeping giant (well, he's 6-foot-1 so he's about average in size) awoke, throwing for three touchdowns in the second quarter and bringing the Eagles back into what could have easily descended into a blowout fast.

Hurts also, for what it's worth, posted the first three touchdown pass game in over a year for the Eagles — Wentz last did it in Week 14 of last season.

And he did it in style. 

Down by 16 points early? No big deal.

Stuck with a 4th down in the red zone? No biggie.

Feeling the heat in the two minute drill? NBD.

Backed up with a 2nd-and-29 (yes, this really happened)? Do you really still have to ask?

That last one was monumental, as a screen pass and fourth down scramble (and then Alshon Jeffery drawing his second PI of the game) set up a ridiculous Hurts touchdown run, breaking several tackles to tie the game at 26-all after trailing for nearly 45 minutes.

The Eagles fell behind again by a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter. With no timeouts and 90 seconds left, Hurts wiggled his way out of a fourth down jam and then recovered his own fumble to move the sticks a second time as the Birds showed heart in a final (albeit unsuccessful) push to tie it. 

After a third first-down conversion, Hurts heaved two unsuccessful Hail Mary passes as the Birds fell to 4-9-1.

In all, Hurts completed 24-of-44 passes and posted just the second 300-yard game of the year for the Eagles. He threw for three touchdowns and ran for a fourth, and showed a ton of room for growth. He also ran for 63 yards on 11 carries. After the last two games for Philly, the quarterback play provides optimism, something that has been absent since their surprise 2019 playoff run.

Hurts has played with a unique combination of patience, and assertiveness, as he's found open receivers routinely, shrugged off high pressure situations and commits to rolling out or keeping the ball for a scramble without second thought.

And it's not just his numbers on the stat sheet, or the plays in the highlight reel, but it's the situational football. Hurts has a knack for knowing where the sticks are, or what down it is, and seems to be rising to the occasion as the odds get stacked against him.

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“I thought he had great poise out there, great leadership,” Doug Pederson said of Hurts after the game. “[He] played physically tough, mentally tough, made some really good throws down the stretch, especially in the second half when we had to put a couple drives together. He played really well, took care of the football, he did those things really well and led the team into the end zone.”

The Pederson comments are interesting, as he was much less complementary after his first NFL start, a win against the Saints last week. He still would not commit to Hurts starting going forward.
“He’s a motivated athlete, a motivated quarterback," Pederson continued. "He’s a self-starter, great leadership ability… you saw today how well he can throw from the pocket and outside the pocket. He’s doing a good job. I would say there's room to grow, just learning the details of our game, he can do better there. But he gave us an opportunity to win today.”

There's a saying — I am sure I heard it said with great corniness by Troy Aikman or someone else broadcasting a football game many times — that if you have two quarterbacks you have no quarterbacks. The Eagles will have a lot to figure out as they've got, at the very least, an extremely talented and high-potential hot hand in Hurts, and a former star who has been shaken to his core in Wentz. 

Philadelphia's potential draft slot in 2021 could still potentially fall anywhere from the top 10 to the low 20s — so more than the QB controversy and their push to try and win the division, every snap has ramifications for next season. And each success on the field (win or loss) makes it less likely that regime change — for better or worse — will occur at season's end. 

Interestingly, Washington's loss to the Seahawks earlier helps keep the NFC East drama alive for the Eagles for another week, and things could get even more interesting with a Giants' loss on Sunday Night Football. The report on Wentz, paired with the high level play from Hurts assures that the Eagles will have non stop drama this entire offseason.

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