Jalen Hurts had just fumbled, and after he crossed the boundary between the field and the sideline, Nick Sirianni gave him an earful.
The Eagles quarterback didn’t respond to his coach. He stared straight ahead, pulled his helmet up and walked to the bench. Neither would reveal Sirianni’s exact message, although it wasn’t hard to guess the sentiment.
“Whatever he said,” Hurts stated, “it worked.”
Apparently. Hurts and the Eagles rebounded from a sluggish start and prevailed over depleted Washington, 27-17, in a rare Tuesday night contest. They hadn’t played in 16 days, and it was unclear if rust had factored into two turnovers in two possessions that resulted in an early 10-0 deficit.
But for a brief spell it felt as if the Eagles might succumb to another unknown reserve quarterback 11 years after Joe Webb entered the annals of dubious franchise defeats. But Hurts, the continued potency of the run game, and a good-enough defensive performance against the inferior Garrett Gilbert pushed Sirianni’s squad to 7-7 and only one spot out of the playoffs.
Hurts wasn’t responsible for the Eagles’ first turnover. Tight end Dallas Goedert dropped a would-be third-down conversion on the opening drive that bounced off his heel and to Washington safety Landon Collins. But the second on the next possession was entirely on the second-year quarterback.
He appeared to miss an open Kenneth Gainwell and then held the ball too long, but it was the way he grasped that ball that seemed to infuriate Sirianni most.
“I think Jalen responds to tough coaching,” Sirianni said. “He likes tough coaching, and I wasn’t going to back down on him. I thought he was careless with the football. And I let him know that.”
It didn’t help that he lost the ball in the red zone, either. Ball security has been a point of emphasis, particularly in getting Hurts to hold the ball with two hands when he starts to move out of the pocket. He had only one previous fumble this season.
But Hurts had three turnovers — all interceptions — in his last outing. And it’s not as if he has earned the benefit of doubt. Tuesday night marked only his 17th career start. Backup Gardner Minshew’s winning performance in his place on Dec. 5 was yet another reminder that he has yet to place a stamp on the position beyond this season.
Hurts, if anything, has been accountable. He’s a coach’s kid, after all.
“I lived with the guy that was chewing me out,” Hurts said. “So I made it clear to Coach [all year], ‘Hey, you can get on me a little bit.’”
Sirianni knew that Hurts wasn’t 100 percent. A high ankle sprain caused him to miss the New York Jets game, and while the coach said that he anticipated his quarterback being ready by Sunday had the Washington game not been postponed, he also confirmed that the Eagles “did things to help him out” on Tuesday.
Hurts, who had both ankles heavily bandaged, still rushed for 38 yards on 8 carries. But he scrambled only three times, and kept sharp cuts to a minimum. Maybe the restrictions on his mobility helped his passing because Hurts was his most accurate.
He completed 20 of 26 passes (77%) for 296 yards with two drops. Goedert had both miscues, but he also led the Eagles with seven grabs for a career-high 135 yards. Hurts showed that he, too, could have as much chemistry as Minshew did with the tight end.
Goedert pulled in an early second-quarter 45-yard jump ball that Hurts had slightly underthrown, but later they hooked up for 21 yards on a pass that exemplified how the quarterback’s pocket presence has improved. Hurts shuffled to his left when he felt pressure, kept his eyes downfield with both hands on the ball, and delivered a strike.
He had other impressive tosses. DeVonta Smith’s toe-tapping was the most impressive part of a 28-yard connection in the first, but Hurts’ throw to his right was on the money. And in the fourth, after Washington had trimmed the Eagles lead to 20-17, he had maybe his best back-to-back plays of the season.
On third-and-6 at the Eagles 47, he checked to a bubble screen that wide receiver Jalen Reagor took 34 yards. And then he delivered a 19-yard back-shoulder pass in the end zone to where only receiver Greg Ward could snare it.
“He played a great football game today, one of the best football games I’ve seen him play,” Sirianni said. “And so, what an unbelievable job by him of — what’s he say … ‘Don’t look at it, flush it, and move on.’”
As efficient as Hurts was, Washington was decimated. It had as many as 21 players on COVID-19 reserve last week and was without 14 on Tuesday, including top quarterbacks Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen. Washington was also missing seven assistant coaches.
It got back key starting defensive linemen Jonathan Allen and Montez Sweat but was without two top defensive backs — Kendall Fuller and Kamren Curl — and lost another, William Jackson, late in the first half.
Sirianni understandably had Hurts firing early to take advantage of Washington’s secondary. But he also stayed committed to the winning recipe on the ground over the last two months, and when the Eagles got ahead early in the second half, the play-calling heavily tilted toward the run.
The Eagles rushed for 238 yards on 41 carries and have eclipsed the 200-yard mark in five of their last seven games. They’ve averaged a remarkable 214.4 yards over that span.
And Hurts, it should be noted, set the franchise mark for rushing touchdowns for a quarterback when his two scores gave him 10 on the season, topping some guy named Michael Vick. He also became only the third quarterback in NFL history to rush for over 700 yards and score 10 touchdowns, joining Cam Newton and Kyler Murray.
The rushing accomplishments are nice, but Hurts needed a consistent throwing performance following the New York Giants loss. Not that he thought so.
“I flushed that a long time ago,” Hurts said. “I forgot about it. I get to play them this week.”
Hurts took noticeably longer to get to his postgame news conference, likely because of treatment for his ankle. He and the Eagles have only four days of rest before hosting the Giants on Sunday. But if he does play and gets off to another rough start, he may have Sirianni in his face again.
“Later on in the game he comes back and jokes with me and says, ‘I guess I’m just going to start coaching you like your dad coached you,’” Hurts said. “So it was a funny moment.”