Jalen Hurts lifts Eagles’ world back on axis with win over Giants

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PHILADELPHIA—Now that the Eagles’ world is back on its axis, and the NFC’s top seed looks as powerful as it has all season, the truth can be told: Jalen Hurts is one tough quarterback. He’s the NFC’s Mahomes.

Five weeks after spraining his shoulder and missing two games, Hurts led the Eagles to a soul-crushing rout of their I-95 NFC brethren from the Meadowlands. Hurts was his efficient self: a TD run, two TD throws, zero turnovers. The first clue he wasn’t altogether whole, still, came when he told me after the game he hadn’t attempted in practice a spiral as long as the 40-yard pass he completed to DeVonta Smith (45 yards in the air) on the second play of this game.

“I actually hadn’t done it in practice,” he said a few minutes after midnight, his voice soft, as usual. “But this was a matter of doing what I had to do. My read took me to DeVonta, so it’s the throw I had to make. Mentally, I had to put myself in the position where I was okay overcoming the challenge. It’s not easy to do that.”

I asked Hurts if he saw what happened to Patrick Mahomes earlier in the day.

“No,” he said.

He hadn’t seen Mahomes sprain his right ankle on a tackle against Jacksonville, insist he was okay to keep playing, throw a coat when he was taken out, and later come back to lead Kansas City to a win.

The hint of a smile came onto Hurts’ face when I told him. “I think when you want something, you don’t want to be denied of that,” he said. “You know? Going back to that Chicago game, when I got the shoulder [injury], I was grimacing. Tears. Tears that couldn’t come out because it was so cold.” He let out a mini laugh.

“It was very painful. It was very bad. I knew it was bad. It was bad. Being able to overcome that challenge in that game, come back to win, coming back to win the number one seed. Those are things as a competitor you just have to challenge yourself to overcome.”

All doubts about Hurts’ ability to play his game disappeared in the first quarter. Playing from the shotgun against a four-man Giants rush on the second snap, Hurts stepped back a couple of yards, had plenty of time, and rainbowed a perfect throw 45 yards into the air in tight coverage to Smith. Now I understand making that throw wasn’t a comfortable thing for Hurts, but no way you could see that at the time. Beautiful spiral, and he threw it on a dime. He said he didn’t prove anything to himself on the throw, but he certainly proved something to all of Philadelphia, which let out a collective primal scream inside and outside the Linc at that moment.

(Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

Later in the quarter, on successive plays, he kept the proving up. He threw a line drive to A.J. Brown for 12 yards and a first down. And with questions about whether the Eagles would put him in harm’s way on designed runs, Hurts ran a play-action bootleg left, got hit by three Giants and buried—after a gain of nine. Three plays later, his nine-yard TD toss to Smith made it 14-0. The rout was on.

This was not exclusively the Jalen Show. It might seem weird based on the final score, but coach Nick Sirianni and his staff have tremendous respect for the Giants, for coach Brian Daboll and defensive coordinator Wink Martindale. Privately, I got the feeling that some players and even Sirianni were blown away by the one-sidedness of the game. But this team has been set up in the old Andy Reid tradition: strengthen both lines first, second and third, then worry about every other spot on the field.

The most amazing thing, I thought, was the neutering of the Giants’ defensive line, which embarrassed the Vikings a week ago in the Wild Card game. But in Philadelphia, this great offensive line and line coach, Jeff Stoutland, paved the way for 268 rushing yards and allowed just one sack and a measly four pressures to standout rushers Dexter Lawrence, Leonard Williams and Kayvon Thibodeaux. That was the first game all season that Lawrence had been held without a QB pressure. It’s important that Hurts have room to breathe—for his health and for his explosiveness—and this line put an oxygen tent around the young QB for four quarters.

On defense, Eagles coordinator Jonathan Gannon rotated in eight defensive linemen who played between 10 and 34 snaps; rusher Haason Reddick got 1.5 sacks and two more hits of Daniel Jones on 36 snaps. Spotting an efficient rusher like Brandon Graham at age 34 for 12 snaps is smart; he had enough burst left for a fourth-quarter sack of Jones.

“My dad’s here tonight,” Sirianni said after the game, nodding in the direction of his father, “and the first thing he told me when I got into coaching was, ‘It’s always about the O-line and the D-line.’”

Just then, the architect of the two lines and the rest of the roster, GM Howie Roseman, walked by to congratulate Sirianni.

“Howie!” Sirianni yelled. “All about the O-line, D-line, baby!”

“All about the O-line, D-line!” Roseman replied.

Sirianni continued. “You get tested in this division—Washington with a great defensive line, Dallas with a great defensive line, the Giants with a great defensive line. Everybody wants to make fun of our division, but we had three teams in the divisional playoffs. That’s a really good team over there [the Giants]. We just played one of our best games tonight, though.”

Now the Eagles (15-3) play for the conference title next Sunday. They’ve seen what Jalen Hurts can do while not 100 percent, and it’s damn good. Damn good, though, with a line that’s playing better than any offensive line in football—and the second-place line might not be close.

“What’s the shoulder like right now?” I asked Hurts.

“Good enough,” he said. “It’s definitely a nagging thing. But as far as me physically, I just want to continue my recovery process and be ready for the next game.”

The mind is a powerful thing. Right now, Hurts’ mind might be the most powerful force he has.

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

Jalen Hurts lifts Eagles’ world back on axis with win over Giants originally appeared on NBCSports.com