The coach couldn’t bring himself to do it.
For whatever reason — tough love for the rookie, genuine obtuseness, Carson Wentz’s tender feelings — Doug Pederson couldn’t compliment Jalen Hurts. And he wouldn’t name Hurts the starter for the next week’s game.
Pederson wouldn’t do it after Hurts replaced Wentz in the third quarter at Green Bay and rallied the team to a respectable loss. That made some sense.
Pederson wouldn’t do it the following week, after Hurts, in his first NFL start, beat the first-place Saints and their top-ranked defense — a win that saved the Eagles’ season and, likely, Pederson’s job. That made a bit of sense, since Hurts had won more with guile and grit and an electric Eagles defense than with classic quarterbacking. You run for 106 yards and throw for only 167, you might get scrutinized, even in a win in which you made virtually no mistakes.
But this week? Hurts completed 24 of 44 passes for 338 yards and three touchdowns. He threw no interceptions. He ran 11 times for 63 yards and a 7-yard touchdown on which he dragged a 250-pound defender the final 2 yards. He got sacked six times, playing behind an NFL-record 13th combination of offensive linemen in 14 games. He rallied the team from a 16-0 deficit to a 33-26 loss. It was tied at 26 late in the game. The Eagles had two chances to tie or take the lead.
It was a heroic performance.
The Eagles fell to 4-9-1 and have only a glimmer of hope to reach the playoffs, but that glimmer exists because Jalen Hurts is much better than anyone had reason to expect.
But still, again, Pederson wouldn’t afford Hurts the simple courtesy of assuring him a position with the starting unit seven days hence.
Hurts finished with a 102.3 passer rating, on the road, against a playoff-caliber team, in his second NFL start. Wentz’s best this season was 91.1, in a home win, in his fifth NFL season, against an atrocious Giants team.
Carson Wentz has about as much chance of starting at Dallas on Sunday as Carson Daly.
Still, Pederson continues the tiresome suspense … even as he lauded Hurts’ effort.
“Played physically tough. Mentally tough. He made some good throws down the stretch, in the second half, put a couple of drives together. Played well. Played really well. Took care of the football.
“I’ll probably have a decision for you tomorrow,” Pederson said. “I’ll try to get through this game first.”
He sounds foolish.
That has been a theme. Pederson has sounded foolish a lot in 2020.
This is the same coach who, on Nov. 12, needed to be prodded into endorsing Wentz after Pederson’s best football buddy, Brett Favre, said he believed the Eagles should have kept Nick Foles after the 2018 season instead of Wentz.
The same coach who, after a loss in Cleveland on Nov. 22, said the team would think the “season’s over” if he replaced Wentz with Hurts.
The same coach who, three days later, had to be harangued into naming Wentz the starter for the next game.
He’s also the same coach whose defense, playing without three of four starting defensive backs, performed like banshees in Arizona on Sunday, forcing three turnovers, two of them in the red zone against the league’s tightest red-zone team.
He’s the same coach who prepared a second-round gadget quarterback — a rookie project who was drafted as injury insurance to the rickety Wentz Wagon — to beat the Saints, and nearly beat the Cardinals.
He’s the same coach who went 4-1 with Nick Foles in the 2017 and 2018 playoffs, who won a Super Bowl, who beat Bill Belichick, then took the team back to the postseason with a roster of practice-squad graduates last season.
He’s the same coach.
He’s just acting really weird.