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The Eagles don’t need Jalen Hurts to be the next Randall Cunningham. They just need him to be him. | Mike Sielski

Hurts has been up and down this season, sure. But he has been pretty good overall, and getting the Eagles into the playoffs should earn him the benefit of the doubt to be their starter in the future.

Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts running with the football against New York Giants free safety Xavier McKinney on Sunday.
Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts running with the football against New York Giants free safety Xavier McKinney on Sunday.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

Jalen Hurts arrived at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday morning having made an interesting wardrobe choice, one that revealed that he saw himself on a particular continuum of Eagles quarterbacks. He walked into the stadium wearing a retro Randall Cunningham jersey, white with Kelly green embroidery, and he donned the jersey again for his press conference following the Eagles’ 34-10 rout of the Giants. Why the Randall jersey? Hurts was making a statement, and he wasn’t shy to say so.

“One of the greatest and obviously an icon here,” he said. “I always talk about how much it means to be able to play for this organization, knowing the great dual-threat quarterbacks I’ve had come before me: Mike Vick, [Donovan] McNabb, 5, and Randall Cunningham. I just want to play at a high level and make them proud.”

There have been moments this season when comparing Hurts to that trio would have seemed perfectly appropriate, and there have been moments when it would have seemed completely ridiculous — and often it was appropriate and ridiculous in the same game. Cunningham was an NFL MVP, the league’s “ultimate weapon,” according to a memorable Sports Illustrated cover. McNabb had an MVP-caliber season in 2004 and shepherded the Eagles to five NFC championship games and a Super Bowl. And Vick’s accomplishments here surpassed both: He resurrected his career and his life and at last developed, however briefly, into the spectacular passer/runner he could and should have been years earlier.

At their best, those three were genuinely great players. No one would or could argue Hurts has been a great quarterback for an extended period this season, or even for more than consecutive quarters. Take Sunday. Just as he had been just five days earlier, against Washington, he was careless with the football early on, trying to force a pass that was nearly intercepted, then taking a sack and losing a fumble. He had Dallas Goedert wide open in the end zone for a sure touchdown on a broken coverage by the Giants. Though both he and coach Nick Sirianni said that Hurts’ progression of reads on the play didn’t allow him to see Goedert, it seems impossible that Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady, or a quarterback closer to their level wouldn’t have found a way to get Goedert the ball.

Yet just as he did five days earlier and has done often, Hurts recovered to play better later; in the second half, he completed 10 of his 12 passes, including two for touchdowns.

“When he plays good, the offense rolls,” Sirianni said, “Just a credit to Jalen to bounce back and play that good second half, because that’s what good teams do. They find a way to win.”

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Because Hurts’ status with the Eagles is shrouded in so much uncertainty, because every fine play he pulls off or every mistake he makes seems a referendum on his long-term viability as the team’s starting quarterback, it’s easy to judge him by a different standard from another quarterback on firmer footing. Already, for example, Hurts has thrown as many touchdown passes in his first full season as a starter, 16, as Carson Wentz did in his, and his yards-per-attempt average is higher than Wentz’s was in his rookie year, 2016. More, even if the Eagles lose their final two games, at FedExField against Washington and at home against the Cowboys, Hurts’ record as a starter this season would be 7-9, which was Wentz’s record in ‘16.

Those statistics don’t mean that Hurts has Wentz’s arm strength or size — because he doesn’t — and citing a quarterback’s win-loss record can be fraught with yeah-buts and eye tests and missing context. But these facts do highlight the grace period afforded to a first-round pick merely for being a first-round draft pick, a grace period that Hurts, if you look at his season as a whole, would appear closer to earning, even as a second-rounder drafted to be a backup.

The Eagles are 8-7 and on the cusp of a postseason berth, and if Hurts gets them into the playoffs — especially if he does so now, on a sprained ankle that hampers his ability to be his customary threat to run — are his limitations really reason enough for the Eagles to start over this offseason by drafting, trading for, or signing a new starting quarterback?

A first-round pick gets the presumption of improvement. He gets the chance to move past his fumbles and forced throws and bad plays. Given the meager expectations for Hurts and the Eagles entering this season and given their results so far, when does he get the same benefit of the doubt? Should he get that same benefit of the doubt?

“It’s a well-rounded question, but I’ll tell you honestly: I stay in the moment with everything,” Hurts said. “Everybody has goals. Everybody has dreams and things they want to accomplish. We put so much work into this. So there are big dreams and big goals that we want to achieve, but right now, in this moment, I’m happy.”

It’s a moment no one should look past. No, Hurts hasn’t been Randall Cunningham or Donovan McNabb or Michael Vick. He hasn’t matched the measure of those quarterbacks’ greatest days, not yet, maybe not ever. But he has helped put the Eagles in a position few thought they’d be in, and if he can summon the best version of himself, this season will be considered a success, and he’ll come closer to securing his place as their starting quarterback. He has two weeks, starting Sunday in Landover.