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January 09, 2023

John McMullen: Forget style points with a limited Jalen Hurts

The full scope of failing to win at least one of the two games Jalen Hurts missed due to a sprained SC joint in his throwing shoulder will not be known for a number of weeks, but the first domino fell on Sunday during an ugly 22-16 win over the junior varsity version of the New York Giants.

The Eagles felt that had to go back to Hurts to finally clinch the NFC East, the No. 1 seed in the conference, and a franchise record 14th win.

While the mission was accomplished, it became clear that the original plan had the team persevered with Gardner Minshew was to hold Hurts out until the divisional round of the playoffs when Nick Sirianni hit the podium.

“I know he was hurting. He was hurting bad,” the coach said.

That was a bit of a jaw-dropping moment for most of us who spend time around Sirianni, who typically treats injury news like the CIA protects “Top Secret” classified information.

The agency regards anything that “reasonably could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security” as top secret. The Eagles regard anything that burns their intell on injuries as a competitive-advantage crisis.

It was clear that Hurts at 80 percent or whatever imagined number you want to scale the QB1 out is better than Minshew, but the unintended consequences of unveiling a less-than-optimal Hurts are tells to potential future playoff opponents.

Remember back when Hurts was first injured in Chicago and the Eagles started the day-to-day dog and pony show with Sirianni describing Hurts' freakish healing powers?

“I don’t put anything past Jalen Hurts as far as his physical and mental toughness,” Sirianni said at the time. “There’s a chance he could play this week. He is one of the toughest guys I know and he heals fast. He’s a freak. ...I will not rule him out, I would not put a timetable on him. We’ll see what happens.”

That was the head coach at his best when it came to deflection with disinformation.

There was never any chance that Hurts would play against Dallas which then led to the New Orleans week and ramped up subterfuge with reporters encouraged to gather all the video they wanted of Hurts practicing, hoping it would trickle down to the bayou.

Talking about it wasn't enough.

Hurts didn’t play again, though, because the fear of a more significant injury due to contact was still on the table.

The healing process is further along now and the Eagles were comfortable enough to put Hurts out there with restrictions against a Giants team mailing it in.

The result was the needed W with a lack of style points and the observations from scouts with front-row seats from five potential playoff teams watching it all. The only one working for no reason was a Green Bay personnel executive because the Packers were eliminated on Sunday night.

Before the Saints game, Sirianni had a playful exchange with a reporter who asked if Hurts is some kind of superhero when it comes to healing.

Turns out the Eagles quarterback is a human being like everyone else, but he does actually have a superpower from a football perspective.

Hurts’ ability as the plus-one in the running game makes the explosive Philadelphia offense hum and when you take that out of the equation in order to protect a quarterback who is “hurting bad,” you end up with what you saw against the Giants.

Sirianni cited issues in the red zone, something the Eagles are typically good at, and not Hurts' limitations as the problem against New York. When pressed, however, the coach did admit that taking Hurts’ ability to pull the football in zone-read situations out of the mix contributed to the issues.

If that part of the offense is not back by the divisional round, all the disinformation in the world isn't going to prevent a dogfight against any potential opponent.

John McMullen is a contributor to and covers the Eagles and the NFL for Sports Illustrated and JAKIB Sports. He’s also the co-host of “Birds 365,” a daily streaming show covering the Eagles and the NFL, and the host of “Extending the Play” on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at
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