FMIA: Jalen Hurts keeps on winning in Philadelphia

It is sunny, on Jalen Hurts’ side of the street. You know why? Because his team won the game. The Eagles won it in a different fashion than in the bombs-away way they’d won in September, running it 50 times for 210 yards, keeping the ball for almost 40 minutes. Fine with Hurts.

“The point about today,” Hurts said, “is more so about the conditions of the football game and not letting that deter us from our goal and our execution and what we wanted to do. Our ball security – we had that interception early, the pick-six. But you look at the turnover differential, I think it was five to one, just one for us. (True.) We put ourselves in a 14-0 hole. We hadn’t been in a hole like that all year. In these conditions, we played a different game. We just handled it.”

This is the thing you notice about Hurts. He knows the only thing that matters is winning, particularly in a city like this one. Winning humbly, winning with a worker-bee attitude, winning with gratitude.

Philadelphia is ferocious and merciless. Cross Philadelphia, and you’re dead. Play with a Philadelphia attitude – as Hurts did Sunday, down 14-0, knowing he’d sacrifice anything to score on the fourth-and-goal run, and car-crash into the end zone – and you can be a king.

Time will tell if that happens with Hurts here. But his center, Jason Kelce, already thinks Hurts is “the epitome of what a Philadelphia athlete is. He’s the ultimate underdog, and this city loves underdogs.”

The quick bio doesn’t really start off as an underdog story: Hurts was coached by his dad in Channelview, Texas, and recruited by Nick Saban to quarterback Alabama in 2016. He won the job as a true freshman, kept it for two years, lost it to Tua Tagovailoa in 2018, and transferred to Oklahoma for the 2019 season. (I wonder how many quarterbacks have been both first-team all-SEC and first-team all-Big 12. There’s at least one.)

Doug Pederson didn’t see a short (6-1) quarterback with good mobility (4.59 seconds in the 40-). He saw a smart quarterback who knew when to run but didn’t use it as a crutch, with a plus-arm that many draftniks didn’t see, with a chip on his shoulder that he’s used in the right way. GM Howie Roseman wanted a good backup QB for Carson Wentz because he’d been hurt a lot, and so late in round two in April 2020, here came Hurts.

He’d been through so much at such a high level by the time he got to the Eagles that Wentz feeling threatened by him was something he never paid attention to. That wouldn’t help him be a better player. “First time he ever stepped in the huddle as a rookie was in Green Bay,” Kelce said. “You want your quarterback to be confident in his ability but almost stoic. He made everyone feel he was in complete control. Ever hear that saying that 80 percent of how you communicate is by body language? Jalen’s definitely one of those 80-percent body-language guys.”

He’s got one other Rocky Balboa trait: To knock him off, you’re going to have to knock him out. He just sprang up from that hit by Devin Lloyd Sunday. I don’t know how. But that was a powerhouse right hook from Apollo Creed, and Hurts acted like it was a glancing blow.

“I’ve never lost faith,” Hurts told me. “I’ve been at the top of the mountain and I’ve been in the valley low. Through it all I’ve always been who I am and I’ve tried to stay true to who I am – being a man of God and keeping Him at the center of everything. I’ve never lost faith. I’ll never ever ride waves. Never get too high, never get too low. I just always try to keep the main thing the main thing and control what I can and try to be the best quarterback and best man I can be for my team.”

Talk to people around the Eagles, and you’ll hear this recurring theme about Hurts: This is the first year he’s had the same offense two seasons in a row, so of course he’d be a better player. And he certainly is. Who’d have thought, a quarter of the way through the season, that you’d look at the leaders in yards-per-pass-attempt, the category that most often has the big throwers atop the list, and see this man in first place:

Jalen Hurts, 9.1 ypa

Having two deep threats, A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith, helps. But it’s more than that. It’s the quickness of his decision-making. It’s comfort in the system. It’s, even when he tucks and runs, as he did down 14-0 near the goal line Sunday, the discipline of going from 1 to 2 to 3 so fast, and knowing the throw’s not there and knowing instantly the best option is to run. That knowledge base is helped by having the exact same people around him daily for a second straight year—Kelce the center, Sirianni the head coach, Steichen the offensive coordinator, Brian Johnson the QB coach, Kevin Patullo the passing game coordinator.

As Sirianni said post-game, the benefit of players like Tom Brady and Drew Brees and Philip Rivers commanding the same offense year after year is obvious. “They have a mental rolodex, and they know when the defense looks a certain way, they’re going here with the ball, period.”

I fully expected Hurts to say what a great relief it was to finally have the same offense and same mentors for a second year. But he didn’t. Again, he saw the sunny side.

“I’ve always tried to use that as a positive,” he said. “I learned something from Lane Kiffin, from Brian Daboll, from Mike Locksley, from Steve Sarkisian, at Alabama. Learning all those different ways of thinking of football conceptually really helped me. Then coach [Lincoln] Riley at Oklahoma. Then coach Pederson. Now my coaches here.

“I’ve been a sponge. I’ve observed and learned. I apply their lessons to the way I think.” All the way back to high school, and coach Averion Hurts in Channelview, Texas.

“Everything’s simplified in high school,” he said. “You play your best when you have a simple mind, right? Sometimes, when I run a play now, and it’s something like high school, I think, ‘I ran that play for coach Hurts back at Channelview.’”

One other point about Hurts that’s compelling. It’s too early to think the Eagles are certain that Hurts is their quarterback for the next 10 years. Why make that call now anyway, when there’s no real reason to? It’s certainly trending that way – that Hurts will be the franchise guy here. But until he is, and until the Eagles have to lay out the money for Hurts, they can build a more complete team. That more complete team was on display Sunday in the south Philly rain.

The Eagles signed free-agent pass-rusher Haason Reddick for three years and $45 million; he had two strip-sacks of Trevor Lawrence in the fourth quarter. And Roseman took advantage of the Giants’ horrible cap management by pilfering corner James Bradberry for one year and $7.25 million. With five minutes left in the third quarter and the Jags down 20-14, Bradberry baited Lawrence into a huge interception at the Eagles’ seven-yard line.

The Eagles are a continuum. From the looks of it, the 24-year-old Hurts will be at fulcrum for a long time. Good for the Eagles. Bad for the rest of the NFC East.

Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column

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