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Eagles’ Jalen Hurts claims the title of No. 1 quarterback in NFC East ... with a bullet

He was masterful in the 24-7 rout of the Vikings. If Hurts doesn’t belong with NFL quarterback royalty, he at least rules the paltry kingdom that is his division.

Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts celebrates his second-quarter touchdown run against the Minnesota Vikings.
Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts celebrates his second-quarter touchdown run against the Minnesota Vikings.Read moreYong Kim / Staff Photographer

With Hall of Famers present and future looking on live, Jalen Hurts delivered a prime-time performance worthy of his audience.

“Big-time performance,” said coach Nick Sirianni, “on a big-time stage.”

Former Eagles coach Dick Vermeil, reigning National League MVP Bryce Harper, and former NBA MVP James Harden watched Hurts dissect the defense of a Vikings team expected to make a run deep into the playoffs. The way Hurts played, the Vikings might have to go through Philadelphia, like they tried to do after the 2017 season.

We all recall how that turned out: The Eagles won that NFC championship game, 38-7, went to the Super Bowl, and won there, too.

They won, 24-7, Monday night. They’re 2-0. They’re very, very good.

Because Hurts has been very, very good.

So is Darius Slay, a devoted basketball fan who presented Harden with the first ball he intercepted to squelch the Vikings drive that opened the third quarter. He added another, in the end zone, in the fourth. Of course, Slay has been to four Pro Bowls. He and Harden one day might both be enshrined.

Hurts was as good Monday night as either has been in any game of their careers. The receivers ran crisp routes, the offensive line protected him like he was an ascending monarch, and what with all the purple at Lincoln Financial Field, there was a regal air to the occasion.

If Hurts doesn’t belong with NFL quarterback royalty, he at least rules the paltry kingdom that is the NFC East.

» READ MORE: Jalen Hurts is what he is; don’t make the same mistakes made with Donovan McNabb

Hurts completed 26 of 31 passes for 333 yards and a touchdown, although he threw a late interception. He also ran for 57 yards and two touchdowns. This followed a performance in Detroit on opening Sunday in which, with 90 rushing yards, he led the Eagles to 31 points in a 38-35 win. He has, so far, been the best version of his very underexposed self. Monday was just his 22nd start in the NFL. Was this Hurts’ finest hour?

Hurts, in a postgame monochrome outfit, was asked this, but nothing, for him, is black and white. And on the podium as on the field, he would not be rushed.

He paused. He waited for water. He unscrewed the cap. Drank. After 17 pensive seconds, he answered.

“I think, for us, we came out and played very efficient,” he said. “Last week I talked about the inconsistencies and the urgency. The communication and the operation. That starts with me. We operated at a high level early on in the game.”

He operated better than Carson Wentz in Washington, Daniel Jones in New York, and Cooper Rush are operating right now. There’s a good chance Hurts can knock Dak Prescott, that ever-injured Cowboy, off his high horse, too.

What’s the limit?

Why not the sky?

The defense, emboldened by the lead Hurts gave the Eagles, intercepted Kirk Cousins three times, sacked him twice, and forced Cousins to fumble. Eagles running backs, freed by Hurts’ arm and legs, ran for 106 yards on 23 carries.

They were great.

Hurts made them so.

He was sharp from the start.

Hurts snapped a rollout pass to Dallas Goedert for 18 yards, ripped one to A.J. Brown at the left hashmark for 19 to convert third-and-13, floated an 8-yard flutter to Zach Pascal, then cut back to his left for a 3-yard touchdown lunge for a 7-0 lead.

After a punt, Hurts found Quez Watkins for a 53-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead on the first play of the second quarter. It was the least remarkable of his remarkable plays; the Vikings blew a coverage and Watkins was uncovered. Still, Hurts read it and delivered it and they scored, but that’s how good Hurts was; the bomb wasn’t the best play. That came later.

His level of polish was simply breathtaking. He exchanged hand signals with DeVonta Smith and Boston Scott in the right flat that triggered a play on which Smith squatted 16 yards over the middle for an easy pitch-and-catch.

Five plays later, Hurts’ sleight of hand on a run-pass option sent Miles Sanders crashing into the line empty-handed, but the linebackers bit; and Goedert pulled across and ran a pattern that drew safety Harrison Smith scurrying after the tight end. Hurts followed the pair for a 26-yard touchdown run as the clock passed the two-minute mark in the first half.

» READ MORE: Eagles-Vikings analysis: Birds dominate in a 24-7 win with Jalen Hurts catching fire

That wasn’t his best play, either.

With 28 seconds to play in the second quarter, on third-and-6 from the Eagles’ 21, Hurts snapped a 16-yard shot to Smith — a play that underscored Sirianni’s faith in his young quarterback.

“Coach had trust in us,” Hurts said, appreciatively.

Hurts then delivered his two best passes of the season, both to Goedert. He hit the tight end for 19 yards down the left side, then the Play of the Day.

Hurts found Goedert for 24 yards, on the left hashmark, into triple coverage, while 6-foot-4, 274-pound linebacker Za’Darius Smith delivered a hit on Hurts that shook his molars.

That pass was everything Hurts isn’t supposed to be able to do. He looked off coverage. He stayed in a collapsing pocket. He dealt the ball down the seam with pace and precision. He stepped into a throw, with laser focus on his target. The play set up a 38-yard field goal that made it 24-7 at halftime.

“That was a huge play,” Sirianni said. “He was in complete control that whole drive. I thought that play was outstanding. Read the coverage perfectly. That’s being in complete control.”

The same could not be said of his seventh start, which fell on Monday night nearly a calendar year ago at Dallas, where Hurts threw two interceptions in a 41-21 blowout loss. He couldn’t wait to hear those Monday night trumpets again.

“I remember what happened the last time we played on Monday Night Football,” he said, with uncharacteristic venom. “I haven’t forgotten about that. We had to come out here and perform at a high level as a team, and that’s me first.”

The Hall of Famers know what a high level is, and they loved it. So did movie star Bradley Cooper and drummer Questlove, both natives and fanatics and in attendance for the home opener.

Hurts was harsh on himself — the Eagles didn’t score after intermission — but the play-calling retreated into a protective shell for most of the second half, until it didn’t. Hurts’ fourth-quarter interception was the product of idiocy — a screen pass into a crowded line off the hands of a 5-foot-9 scat back — and Hurts cannot bear responsibility for coaching malpractice.

Well, the coaching staff is inexperienced, too.

At least they have the best quarterback in the division, and he played the best game of his young career in front of Philadelphia royalty when the lights were the brightest of all.