NFC East Reporter
PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Eagles just weren’t the Eagles when Jalen Hurts wasn’t on the field late in the season. Even when he returned and played hurt, they just didn’t look like themselves.
But on Saturday night, the real Jalen Hurts returned just in time for the divisional playoffs. And for the Eagles, he made all the difference in the world.
“To have him out there is like — I shouldn’t even go there — but it’s like having Michael Jordan out there,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said after Philadelphia pounded the New York Giants 38-7. “He’s your leader. He’s your guy. This guy leads, he brings this calmness to the entire team, he plays great football, he’s as confident as they come.
“To me, there ain’t nobody that’s played any better football than him.”
That was incredibly “high praise” for Hurts, as even Sirianni admitted, and probably even a little bit over the top. But for the Eagles (14-4) — who will now face either the Dallas Cowboys or San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game back here in Philly next Sunday — it doesn’t feel like much of an exaggeration. That’s just how important the 24-year-old quarterback is to this team.
And it goes way beyond his numbers, which weren’t exactly Jordan-esque in the second playoff game of his career. Hurts completed 16 of 24 passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns and ran nine times for 34 yards and a touchdown — a decent output to be sure. But it was more about how he helped open everything up for an offense that simply couldn’t be stopped.
With Hurts back, the Eagles ran for a ridiculous 268 yards. And they absolutely dominated the Giants defense in the first half, when they built a 28-0 lead. They were out-gaining the Giants then 258 yards to 64. They had 18 first downs to the Giants’ three. Heck, they had more touchdowns (four) than the Giants had first downs. They were out-rushing Giants 140-20. They held the ball for 20:12 to the Giants’ 9:48.
In the NFL, beat-downs don’t come much more thorough than that.
And no, it wasn’t all Hurts. The Eagles’ defense was all over Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (15 of 27, 135 yards and an interception). They gave no room to Saquon Barkley, who had just seven of his 61 yards in the first half. And the Eagles’ offensive line absolutely manhandled a Giants defensive front that includes all-pro defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams.
But Hurts is what knocked the Giants off-kilter. The last time they faced him, in the regular-season finale, he was still nursing a sprained right shoulder—an injury still so bad the Eagles only called one running play for him in that entire game. But in this game, Sirianni and offensive coordinator Shane Steichen made it clear from the beginning that “nothing was off limits”.
Hurts was completely unleashed, right from the start, and that put Wink Martindale’s blitz-happy Giants defense immediately back on its heels.
“We wanted to run the things that were best for us, knowing that Jalen had no limitations,” Sirianni said. “We don’t think like, ‘Hey, we’re going to show you guys.’ He was ready to go and we did the things that worked best for us.”
They made that very clear on the opening drive of the game — a quick, eight-play, 75-yard march for a touchdown. On the second play, Hurts erased any doubts about the strength of his shoulder, hitting DeVonta Smith downfield for a 40-yard gain. He showed he could take a hit too, on two designed runs late in the drive, just before his 16-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dallas Goedert.
That showed the Giants that even though Hurts’ shoulder still isn’t 100 percent, it was “good enough” — as Hurts described it — for him to do it all.
“He seemed like the old Jalen to me,” said running back Miles Sanders. “I’m not going to lie.”
“He set the tone,” Goedert added. “And we all followed along.”
Yes they did, especially on the ground. Sanders ran 17 times for 90 yards. Kenneth Gainwell chipped in 112 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. Boston Scott added 32 yards on six carries, with his usual touchdown against the Giants, too. There were holes everywhere, created by the Eagles’ powerful offensive line, as the Giants kept having to guess whether Hurts would hand it off or run it himself.
That, Sanders said, “had their defense tired all game.” It sure showed in the fourth quarter, when the Giants have often been at their best this season. The Eagles got the ball back with 13:12 left in the game, after Giants coach Brian Daboll made the odd decision to punt on a 4th and 5 from the Giants 42 with his team down 28-7, and they just steamrolled through an obviously exhausted Giants defense. They put the game away with a 15-play, 70-yard, eight-minute long field goal drive on which they ran 11 times with four different players carrying the ball. Hurts even sprinkled in a couple of passes, too.
With Hurts running the show, directing the attack, the Eagles basically did whatever they wanted to the Giants, in whatever way they wanted to do it.
“I think the most important thing is we’ve been able to be effective in every possible way,” Hurts said. “That’s all you can ask for as an offense. It’s a good thing to have. It’s a special thing when you’re able to do all of that. It’s kind of like ‘Pick your poison’.”
Hurts, though, is the straw that stirs that poison. He’s what makes the Eagles so dangerous, even if he’s not doing the damage himself.
“Jalen is always going to help the running game big time because of what he can do and the threat he poses on the back side,” Sirianni said. “He’s not carrying it. But he’s still going to affect the game. And that’s what he did. He affected the game. And he runs the show out there. He’s like the point guard out there.”
“He’s the captain of the ship,” Sanders added. “He makes stuff a lot easier, yes he does.”
Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.
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