Jalen Hurts should, at least, be the Eagles’ starting quarterback through the rest of this season. It doesn’t matter that Doug Pederson again declined to state the obvious following yet another mistake-filled — yet eventful — 33-26 loss to the Cardinals Sunday.
On Monday, though, the Eagles coach will name Hurts his starter for next week’s game at the Cowboys, and effectively for the season finale against Washington. The rookie has earned it based upon his performance the last two weeks.
But what Hurts showed in Arizona was that given the opportunity, he could operate a free-flowing passing offense without the restrictions that were placed upon him last week against the Saints. In other words, he has already shown growth in just one week.
It’s difficult to not overreact to a minimal amount of evidence, but Hurts has made an argument for the future. He has shown that he has the tools to be a starting NFL quarterback. How good is anyone’s guess, but the Eagles have to start considering a world in which Carson Wentz isn’t their No. 1 guy next season.
There have been various reports about the Eagles’ commitment to Wentz, and about the 27-year-old’s frustration with the team and unwillingness to return if he has to compete with Hurts. And they might be true in the moment. But there are far too many unknown variables for either side to be definitive.
There are still two games to play, assuming the 4-9-1 Eagles can’t win the NFC East. There is still Pederson’s uncertain future, as well as that of general manager Howie Roseman. There are still roster and salary cap decisions to be made. And there is still time.
Time to break down any barriers that may exist between Wentz and the Eagles. Pederson lauded his quarterback for his approach since being benched, but acknowledged the obvious.
“I get it and I understand it’s a frustrating situation probably for him,” the coach said. “But at the same time I also see him helping Jalen and helping our offense and that’s what he’s doing during these games.”
But with each Hurts outing in which he performs above most expectations, it becomes more difficult to see the Eagles bringing back both quarterbacks. Wentz regressed under the dynamic, and if the ESPN report about his reluctance to return is true, why would the team even want him back?
Hurts sidestepped the question about whether he should be the starter for the rest of the season. But there’s little doubt he has that kind of confidence. He made some errors Sunday, particularly early, but he responded to adversity and nearly pulled off the comeback.
“We left money on the table, missed opportunities and [had] self-inflicted wounds,” Hurts said. “I could care less to hear any of the ‘young’ stuff, ‘second-start’ stuff, ‘rookie’ stuff. We have a standard we want to play to. I, personally, have a standard I want to play to.”
Hurts completed 24 of 44 passes for 338 yards and three touchdowns, all of which came in the first half. The Eagles haven’t had a quarterback throw as many scores in one half since Nick Foles in Dec. 2017. Wentz hasn’t tossed more than two touchdowns in a game all season, let alone in one half.
Hurts also didn’t have any turnovers. The same can’t be said of his counterpart, Kyler Murray, who ducked an interception in the end zone and also fumbled. The Cardinals quarterback was otherwise excellent, but he also had DeAndre Hopkins, who caught nine passes for 169 yards and a score.
Nine different receivers caught passes from Hurts, no one with more than five or 69 yards. Pederson, who was noticeably tepid in his postgame assessment of Hurts following last week’s victory, was more effusive in his praise Sunday.
“Great leadership ability, obviously. He plays tough mentally and physically,” Pederson said. “You saw how well he can throw from the pocket and obviously outside the pocket. He’s doing a good job. I would say there is still room to grow.”
Hurts made his share of mistakes, sure. He was nearly intercepted on his first pass. He took an intentional grounding penalty which resulted in a safety two plays later. He threw a screen pass behind Jalen Reagor that resulted in a loss on the next drive, and then took a sack a play later.
The Eagles trailed, 16-0, in the first quarter, and Hurts was hardly the main culprit. But he took it upon himself to pull his team out of the hole. He started throwing downfield, and Alshon Jeffery and Zach Ertz suddenly came alive as a result.
Hurts may rely too often on the fade. He threw too many jump balls into the end zone on the Eagles’ last two possessions, although the ball was right in tight end Dallas Goedert’s belly on a contested pass on the penultimate drive.
But he trusted his receivers to make plays on the ball, something Wentz has increasingly struggled with over the last few seasons. It’s nearly impossible to evaluate Hurts without comparing him to his predecessor.
They’re different in many ways, but Hurts’ athleticism and the way he’s extended plays reminds of the 2017 Wentz, before the knee, back and head injuries. Hurts, who also rushed 11 times for 63 yards, scored on the ground from seven yards out after he broke a tackle and dragged a defender as he crossed the goal line.
On the Eagles’ final, ill-fated drive, he fumbled the ball, scooped it up and hit Goedert on the run for 14 yards. He converted 3 of 4 fourth downs.
“Those things that you’re applauding me for, were not enough … today,” said Hurts, who also took two costly late sacks. “I think I hate losing more than I love to win. It’s not a great feeling. But it’s a learning lesson.”
The lessons will continue next week, and beyond.