Jalen Hurts starts poorly, gets chewed out as Eagles rally to beat COVID-depleted WFT

PHILADELPHIA – It took a while, and the Eagles certainly made it more difficult than it should have been against the COVID-depleted Washington Football Team that started a quarterback plucked off New England's practice squad only last Friday.

But the Eagles eventually got the job done after falling behind by 10 points early.

Nothing about the 27-17 win Tuesday night over the Football Team was pretty. The game was delayed two days because of Washington's COVID-19 outbreak last week. So the Eagles had gone 16 games between games, and the rust showed.

It was even longer for quarterback Jalen Hurts, who playing for the first time since Nov. 28 after suffering an ankle injury. He threw an interception on the first possession that wasn't his fault when the ball hit off Dallas Goedert's foot. He lost a fumble on the second possession that was his fault.

All of which put the Eagles behind 10-0 in the first quarter, and left Hurts to get chewed out by head coach Nick Sirianni.

"I thought he was careless with the football, and I let him know that," Sirianni said.

So the Eagles turned to their dominating rushing attack led by Miles Sanders' career-high 131 yards. The Eagles rushed for 238 yards, just four short of their season high. It was the seventh straight game in which the Eagles had at least 175 yards rushing, marking the first time that has happened in franchise history.

It was also the first time a team had done that in the NFL since the Chicago Bears in 1985.

But Hurts responded, too.

When asked what Sirianni told him, Hurts replied: "Whatever he said, it worked."

That's because Hurts completed 20 of 26 passes for 296 yards with a touchdown on a 19-yard back-shoulder throw to Greg Ward midway through the fourth quarter that put the game away.

In all, the Eagles had 519 yards of offense, a season high.

And they got contributions from practically everybody.

That was too much for Washington to overcome. The Football Team had 23 players on the COVID list as of last Friday. There were 11 who remained on the list, including starting quarterback Taylor Heinicke and backup Kyle Allen.

So Washington was left with Garrett Gilbert, who was a member of the Patriots' practice squad until last Friday. Gilbert had thrown just 44 passes since he was drafted in 2014. He went 20-for-31 for 194 yards Tuesday.

But the Eagles couldn't get out of their way early when they fell behind 10-0 on turnovers on their first two possessions.

It was a stunning beginning for an Eagles team that desperately needed a win to stay in contention for a playoff spot. By winning, the Eagles (7-7) moved into a three-way tie with New Orleans and Minnesota for the final NFC playoff spot.

Washington (6-8) fell a game behind with only three games remaining.

STILL PAYING OFF: How Eagles are getting much more than a 1st-round pick out of Carson Wentz trade with Colts

THE BIGGEST LOSER: Here's the real loser in NFL's decision to postpone Eagles' game vs. COVID-infested WFT

The Eagles eventually got their bearings, getting a field goal with 8:07 left in the second quarter, then Hurts' 1-yard TD run with 1:29 left in the half.

Still, it was a slog.

The Eagles took their first lead of the game with 12:26 left in the third quarter. Sanders opened the drive with runs of 8 and 37 yards. Then Goedert's 20-yard reception got the Eagles down to the 1 yard line.

On Sanders' long run, center Jason Kelce was seen gesturing to him as if to say Sanders didn't follow Kelce's block.

"I made the wrong read," Sanders said. "I should’ve went the other way. That’s why he was upset with me. Yeah, I’m sorry."

Hurts' second rushing TD of the game made it 17-10. They added a Jake Elliott field goal for a 20-10 lead.

Even then, the Eagles couldn't put Washington away as Gilbert's 29-yard pass to John Bates got WFT to the Eagles' 1. Washington scored on the next play to make it 20-17 early in the fourth quarter.

The Eagles finally buried Washington on the next drive. Hurts' 34-yard pass to Jalen Reagor was followed by the 19-yard TD pass to Ward.

Just like that, the Eagles had a 10-point lead with 7:46 left, and the game was finally well in hand. It was worth the wait.

"We don’t care. Whenever. Wherever," Ward said about the two-day delay. "We’re going to be ready, and we’re going to have the same mindset."

Washington Football Team running back Antonio Gibson (24) goes over the back of offensive tackle Sam Cosmi (76) to score a touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles during the first quarter an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 21, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Rich Schultz)
Washington Football Team running back Antonio Gibson (24) goes over the back of offensive tackle Sam Cosmi (76) to score a touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles during the first quarter an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 21, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Rich Schultz)

Career-highs for Sanders, Goedert

Sanders came up 2 yards short against the Jets for his career-high rushing mark, finishing with 120 yards that game before leaving in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury.

Sanders got the mark Tuesday, however, on a 9-yard run early in the third quarter. That gave him 123 yards on 16 carries. On the Eagles' previous drive to start the second half, Sanders had a 37-yard run.

Sanders, who finished with 131 yards, didn't carry the ball in the fourth quarter as Jordan Howard finished with 69 yards.

"I’m coming off my injuries," Sanders said. "They probably rested me. Three more games that we gotta get right for."

Goedert, for the second straight game, set his career high, this time going for 135 yards, breaking his high of 105 set against the Jets.

Slay lines up at WR

The Eagles tried something new, with cornerback Darius Slay lining up in the slot on 3rd-and-2 from Washington's 14 yards line. Slay then went in motion as Hurts handed the ball off to Sanders, who gained 10 yards to Washington's 4.

Hurts scored a few plays later.

"I don’t know how much he impacted (the play)," Hurts said with a laugh. "I hope he did a little something. He didn’t get the ball. Maybe he’ll get the ball next week."

Hurts throws a weird INT

It was not a great start for Hurts as he threw an interception that wasn't his fault on the first possession. He then fumbled the ball away on the second possession, which was his fault.

It seemed like the Eagles had an easy first down as Hurts took a few steps to his right and threw short to a wide open Goedert near the sideline on 3rd-and-1, with plenty of room to run.

Goedert dropped the pass, which was disappointing enough. But Landon Collins picked up the ball and ran it into the end zone. As it turned out, the ball hit off Goedert's foot and caromed into Collins' arms.

The whistle had blown, so Collins didn't get a pick-6. But WFT scored eventually.

"I was upset that I dropped it," Goedert said. "I was ready to get to the sideline, flush it, and get ready for the next series. I saw it on the jumbotron and put the defense in a bad position. It is something you never want to do."

COVID count

In addition to Heinicke and Allen, Washington didn't have star right guard Brandon Scherff, linebacker David Mayo or cornerback Kendall Fuller, among others.

The Eagles didn't have starting left guard Landon Dickerson nor backup left tackle Andre Dillard, who were placed on the COVID-19 list Sunday and Monday, respectively.

Sua Opeta started in Dickerson's place. And Le'Raven Clark served as the backup tackle in place of Dillard. The Eagles also activated C/G Jack Anderson off injured reserve for depth.

Contact Martin Frank at mfrank@delawareonline.com. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.

This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Instant analysis: Jalen Hurts returns for Eagles vs. WFT using 4th QB