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December 06, 2020

Eagles' Jalen Hurts shows he can play, but will he start the rest of the way?

It was 6:16 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time) when the Eagles finally crossed the Rubicon and trotted rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts out to run the Philadelphia offense for the first time ever.

Sure, the second-round pick was on the field for more than two dozen trick plays earlier this season, wherein he had 12 carries, a catch and a completion, but Hurts hadn't been on the field for an entire series during a football game since he laid an egg in an ugly performance against LSU to end his college career a little less than a year ago.

Without any kind of preseason, and with the Eagles stringently holding out hope that their franchise quarterback Carson Wentz would somehow right himself and keep this team in contention in the dreadful NFC East, Hurts was a gadget guy and held a clipboard.

That was, until the third quarter in Sunday's 30-16 Week 13 loss to the Packers. The Eagles pulled the trigger on Hurts, and it would be hard to justify going back. Get ready for a fun week of Philly sports talk radio.

"I didn't know what the plan was fully," Wentz said. "I was just told he was going in for the next play, the next series. Obviously it's frustrating as a competitor, the personality I have, I want to be the guy out there and it is what it is, they made the call today and at the end of the day we lost. For me that's what I am most frustrated about. I don't like where we are at this season record-wise. I know I can play a lot better."

Hurts entered the game and immediately brought with him a spark and excess of energy. He looked comfortable behind center. He looked agile, versatile and much more aware of the pocket around him than Wentz was. And he also showed he has an arm.

This play is noteworthy for a lot of reasons.

  1. Rookie Jalen Reagor was used properly – as a downfield threat. After catching mostly short passes and getting handoffs and attention near the line of scrimmage, Hurts threw a dime for 34-yards and made perhaps the most exciting play for the Eagles on offense in weeks.
  2. Had Hurts entered the game and failed to show much of anything, there's a decent chance he would have been on the field for just a series. But he showed enough with his arm and legs to make it impossible to justify benching him for Wentz — who was 5-for-12 for 38 yards and took four sacks in the first half.
  3. Wentz had one other completion in the game Sunday, the following hurl to a wide open Dallas Goedert.   
    Hurts throwing a tight, accurate spiral was a nice change of pace and he looked like a true quarterback. The number of throws Wentz has made all season that resemble Hurts' downfield have been few and far between this season. 

But we are burying the lead. 

In his second possession leading the Eagles' offense, after scrambling for two first downs, Hurts got the Eagles closer to the end zone then they had been all game long. But also found himself facing a fourth-and-18 after an Alshon Jeffery penalty. (Just why the heck Alshon is even on the field is the subject for another article.) And he didn't disappoint.

Remember when Wentz used to do that kind of thing?

"It was great, on the bright side of things I am not going to be 'Debbie Downer' right now," Hurts said when asked about his first career scoring toss. "It was a blessing a great feeling to throw a touchdown pass to my good friend Greg Ward, my first one, it was fun."

Hurts threw for 109 yards and the score and ran for 29 yards on five attempts. He also threw a garbage time interception. Are these eye popping numbers? No. Are they something to work with? The Eagles better hope so.

The emergence of Hurts as a serviceable at worst, and delightfully exciting at best, NFL quarterback likely makes for more new questions than it answers (and one of them comes with a gigantic cap hit), but it does give Eagles fans and front office members a monumentally important piece of useful information as they turn their attention to 2021 and decide how to spend what will mostly likely be a top 10 draft pick five months from now.

Hurts resembled a young Wentz, perhaps a bit faster, as he showed he could scramble better than Wentz ever could. He was seen darting away from collapsing pockets in contrast to Wentz, who tried to roll around but often would up rolling into defenders while trying to create offense. 

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"He did some good things," Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said. "He used his legs when he had to, he made a really nice throw to Greg Ward, he got us back in this football game and that was the spark to get us back in this football game, but I have to realty evaluate the film to decide how he played overall."

With the offensive line as putridly terrible as it is (they allowed 50 sacks in the 12 and a half games before Hurts took over) perhaps having Hurts running the offense will give the Eagles the ability to move the ball better in the weeks to come. 

Hurts only plays one position, but his impact was on all three phases as special teams (punt return TD, more on that in a second) and defensive players (who held Aaron Rodgers to back-to-back three and outs late) upped their game to close a 23-3 deficit to just seven points outside five minutes to play in the fourth. Of course, a 77-yard touchdown run from Aaron Jones nixed the Eagles' third try at a three-and-out and ice the game.

Are we in the midst of a full fledged quarterback controversy? Hurts played well and definitely showed he was worthy of more playing time — especially with the Giants now a full 1.5 games ahead in the NFC East. But he didn't play so well that it is impossible for Wentz to make a case to keep playing. At the very least, Pederson did the best he could to avoid give any kind of read to the media.

"Let me get through this game," Pederson said after the game when asked about his starter going forward. "You heard me say we needed a spark in this game go get things going, I have to get through injuries, I have to get through the tape, there are a lot of things to consider and evaluate before things get decided. But you know what opportunity arose, we needed that spark to get us back in that football game today, and we fell short."

More importantly, what will happen in 2021?

With the Eagles staring at the best draft pick and worst salary cap situation they've had in years, it's not too early to turn the page and start thinking about the best way forward for a team flailing just three years after being Super Bowl champions.

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