ATLANTA — DeVonta Smith knew Jalen Hurts’ first touchdown pass of the season was coming even before he did.
The rookie wide receiver said he recognized man coverage during the Eagles’ opening drive and knew he’d soon be hauling in his first career touchdown pass from his former Alabama teammate.
“It came down to seeing the coverage that we wanted,” Smith said. “We repped it a lot [in practice,] when I saw it was man, I knew that it was going to be that play.”
The scoring play capped off a strong start to what would end up a promising day for Hurts, who led the Eagles to a 32-6 win against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“I appreciate the confidence he has and shows to say that,” Hurts said about Smith. “That’s a testament to the hard work that we put in and all the effort we put into it. It’s something we worked on, we got the look we wanted, and we hit it. His first catch was a touchdown. ... It’s like old times.”
The second-year quarterback’s performance against Atlanta was certainly confidence-inspiring. In his first start of what appears to be a one-year audition as the team’s franchise quarterback, Hurts completed 27 of 35 passes for 264 yards and three touchdowns. He also added 62 rushing yards on seven attempts and didn’t have a turnover.
On the Eagles’ opening drive, Hurts went 4-for-4, gaining 41 yards and capping it off with the 18-yard strike to Smith. The Eagles ran three consecutive screens to Quez Watkins for 10-, 11-, and 2-yard gains, respectively.
Smith was Hurts’ most frequent target, finishing the game with six catches for 71 yards and a touchdown.
“He’s the leader,” Smith said. “When things go wrong, he’s the guy that’s picking everybody up. When things go right, he’s the one that’s telling us to keep pushing.”
Hurts played very little in the preseason, missing the second game because of a stomach infection and resting with the starters during the finale. Still, he was afforded a good amount of control in his first time running Nick Sirianni’s offense unbridled by conservative preseason looks.
The Eagles called a heavy dose of run-pass options, and Sirianni said that Hurts had the freedom to make calls at the line of scrimmage depending on what he saw from the Falcons’ defense.
“It’s not about control, it’s [about] me going out there and doing what I’m coached to do,” Hurts said on his pre-snap authority. “We prepare, we hit it every day. I always talk about executing. I want to execute at a high level, whatever that is — running the ball, throwing the ball, alignment things, situation things — I just want to execute at a high level.”
Hurts’ best series may have come at the close of the first half. The 12-play, 62-yard drive finished with the quarterback making a cross-body throw to Dallas Goedert for a touchdown with nine seconds left in the second quarter. Hurts rolled right to evade the rush and give Goedert time to get free, throwing a pass low-and-away for the diving tight end.
When asked about the score, Hurts noted the Eagles didn’t go two-for-one on their following drive to start the third quarter.
“It’s a situation we talk about,” Hurts said. “There’s hidden yardage and hidden points. We could have double-dipped there, we didn’t come out in the second half and score like we wanted to. It was good to get it in. We found a way in that situation.”
During the drive, Hurts also had a 10-yard completion to Goedert and converted a third-and-5 with an 11-yard run.
What did Sirianni see from Hurts’ on the two-minute drill?
“Just taking what the defense gave him,” he said. “Methodically going down the field, making big throws when he needed to make big throws, checking down when he needed to check it down, making a run when he needed to make a run. Just good quarterback play. To go down and get a touchdown in two-minute drill. Sometimes you’re thinking, let’s go get points, and then you get to a point where you’re like, ‘All right, let’s go get seven.’
“Jalen was in complete control there. He was in complete control the whole game. He played a heck of a football game. I’m really happy with the way he played.”