Who ya got?
Jalen Hurts’ first two career starts offered a glimpse of his greatness. His third will be best remembered for the red-zone interception he threw with 6 minutes, 33 seconds to play, and the red-zone “fumble” that wasn’t really a fumble (replays never lie), but whatever. Hurts had two chances late in the game Sunday to burnish his legend and bury Carson Wentz. He was bad, and he was hurt, but he failed.
Well, now the ol’ Wentz Wagon — with its creaky chassis leaking oil in 2020 — just got a lot more valuable. And, maybe, now Wentz might deign to return next season, ideally with some brotherly love in his heart.
Hurts threw for 342 yards and completed 21-of-39 passes, and he ran for 69 yards on nine carries, but he had those two giveaways, plus another late pick. That interception was irrelevant.
The pass that sealed this season’s fate — rolling left, into double coverage, with a down yet to burn and other, less dangerous targets to target — was unwise and unnecessary. It reminded you a lot of, well, Carson Wentz.
For 2¾ games, Hurts had provided hope to a franchise whose franchise quarterback, Wentz, sabotaged the season through the first 12 games. When Hurts took over, everything changed. The plays began to work. The run game mattered. Even the defense played better.
That remained true through the first half, which ended with the Eagles trailing by just three, 20-17, because Hurts carried a 131.5 passer rating into the locker room, thanks mostly to his 81-yard touchdown bomb to DeSean Jackson in his first game back from his latest injury.
“First half, he played really, really well,” observed Doug Pederson, who noted that the Cowboys changed their scheme and Hurts dealt with “lower-body tightness that affected him late in the game.”
Hurts went full CIA: He refused to describe the injury, he refused to say if it affected him, and he refused to detail the Cowboys’ defensive adjustment.
“Gotta make the plays when the opportunity presents itself,” he recited, as boringly professional and gracious as ever.
Why didn’t he hit Jackson again? Because D-Jax, as usual, became less and less available because he began to ache again, Pederson said. So it goes when you’re 34 going on 94.
Hurts was better early than late — overall, he was better in his worst game than Wentz was in his best — but one man can do only so much. Hurts can’t play offensive line, or cornerback, or defensive tackle.
Then again, neither could many of the Eagles on Sunday.
Next Sunday? Who knows? Pederson hasn’t named the next game’s starter since he benched Wentz in the third quarter of Game 12. Pederson was not directly asked Sunday, but Zoom calls have their limitations; this one was used to ask Pederson why he coached so badly this season. A team source indicated later that Pederson would wait again until Monday.
As in Wentz’s 12 terrible starts, the outcome and the misplays weren’t all Hurts’ fault (fewer were Hurts’ than were Wentz’s, but that’s an entirely different lesson).
The Cowboys won less because Hurts struggled than because the Eagles’ defensive backfield and offensive line played to their pathetic pedigrees.
The Eagles lost because the neck of tackle Fletcher Cox, their best defensive player, stiffened, but not in a good way. Cox entered the game compromised from the shoulders up, and left in the first quarter, and that was pretty much that. The Eagles led 14-3 when Cox left. The Cowboys scored 27 points in the next 24 minutes. The Eagles scored three.
The loss stung all the more because Washington lost to Carolina; see, an Eagles win in Arlington would have framed a winner-take-all matchup in Philly on Sunday when Washington visits. Instead, an Eagles win Sunday means nothing to Philadelphia. Painfully, however, a win over Washington could hand the division to Dallas.
Does Sunday’s outcome matter?
The only value a playoff spot might have carried lay in the experience it would have given Hurts, left tackle Jordan Mailata, and receiver Jalen Reagor. When you start Matt Pryor at right tackle and Michael Jacquet at right cornerback, you’re going to wind up right back at home.
Jacquet got benched in the second half, but the offensive line corps lacked the depth to sit Pryor.
Now, the only benefit 2020 can deliver is a more complete examination of Hurts’ abilities and value. Nothing will serve as a valid referendum; three or, if he starts Sunday, four games, against largely inferior competition, cannot completely predict whether Hurts can carry a franchise for a decade.
He’s a rookie, after all. He does rookie things. There were the picks, and the fumble, and other stuff. For instance, Hurts kept the ball and ran late in the third quarter when he should have dumped a short pass to his running back, then failed to reassemble the team quickly enough for a fourth-down try on the subsequent play.
At that point, Hurts’ magic seemed to completely fade. Not even the most unusual of breaks could recall it.
Darius “Big Play” Slay finally surfaced with an interception, his first since the Eagles invested $50 million and two draft picks in him. This returned the ball to the Eagles at the Cowboys’ 28, down 13, with almost 16 minutes to play.
That didn’t matter.
Incompletion; penalty, holding; penalty, false start; batted ball; another penalty, false start; then, eventually, on fourth-and-15, the season effectively in the balance … a 5-yard throw to the worst yards-after-the-catch catcher, Zach Ertz, who gained just 3 yards more.
Bad play calls. Bad player decisions. Bad turnovers. Bad discipline: 12 penalties for 115 yards.
A four-win team. A team that will not play a postseason game for the first time in four years.
A team that cannot know who its quarterback will be come September.
So: Who ya got?