The Eagles lost Sunday because they had too many defensive backfield injuries to overcome against Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins, and because they got a punt blocked that took out their punter/placekick holder with a concussion.
They did not lose because of their quarterback, which might be more important than the 33-26 result against the host Arizona Cardinals.
Jalen Hurts was magnificent after an awful beginning, and this time, it wasn’t mostly about his legs. In his second start after the benching of Carson Wentz, Hurts threw three touchdown passes in the first half, the first time an Eagles quarterback has done that since Wentz – remember him? – did it in 2017.
Hurts had the Eagles in the red zone on his next-to-last drive, but back-to-back sacks made for third-and-21 from the 22, and his final two passes, both to Dallas Goedert, were knocked away. Then Hurts brought the visitors back down the field in the final minute, completing a 14-yard pass even after fumbling the ball and scooping it up. But back-to-back Hail Mary throws to the end zone were incomplete.
All that put the Eagles’ playoff hopes on life support at 4-9-1, but it did not diminish Hurts’ achievement. He went toe-to-toe with Murray, a quarterback predecessor at Oklahoma with a similar playing style.
Hurts completed 24 of 44 passes for 338 yards and those three touchdowns, and ran for another, mirroring Murray’s performance. Hurts also ran 11 times for 63 yards. It was the best performance of the season by an Eagles quarterback.
Hurts seemed downcast but determined on a postgame Zoom call, wearing his gray uniform undershirt.
“You can’t ask for a better situation, having the ball last, having the ball in your hands the last drive of the game, the last play of the game. That’s what you want, the great ones,” Hurts said. “It’s an opportunity for us to learn.”
Eagles coach Doug Pederson said that Hurts “had great poise out there, great leadership, played obviously physically tough, mentally tough. Made some really good throws down the stretch, especially in the second half, when we had to put a couple of drives together. He played well. Played really well.”
Five of the Cardinals’ six sacks came in the second half. The Eagles started their 13th offensive line grouping in 14 games, with Matt Pryor taking over for Jack Driscoll (knee) at right tackle. The Cards’ shifting and stunting seemed to cause a lot of confusion, and the Eagles didn’t do a great job of getting Hurts out of the pocket late in the game.
“You never really know much about guys until they play,” said Pederson, who is now assured of his first nine-loss season since 2016, his first year. “Great leadership ability, obviously. ... We saw today how well he can throw in the pocket, and obviously, outside the pocket. ... He gave us an opportunity to win today.”
The Eagles were missing top cornerback Darius Slay (concussion), safety and leader of the secondary Rodney McLeod (knee), and starting corner Avonte Maddox (knee). Replacements Michael Jacquet, Kevon Seymour, and Marcus Epps fought the good fight. Ultimately they were in over their heads against a top-notch passing game.
“My hat’s off to these guys,” Pederson said when asked about the replacements. Jacquet forced a fumble and Epps intercepted a pass. “Put in a tough situation against a really good football team with great skill and ability, as Arizona does on offense, they battled their tails off.”
The Eagles’ start could not have been worse. Seems like we’ve said that a lot this season, but this time we really mean it. The first quarter was the biggest reason they lost the game.
“We can’t keep spotting people points in the beginning,” defensive end Brandon Graham said. “That’s what hurt us today. ... Before we knew it, it was 16-0.”
After Alex Singleton recovered a fumble Jacquet forced, the Eagles started their first possession on their 8. Hurts took a safety on an intentional grounding.
Next series, the Eagles lined up in the shotgun on third-and-half-a- yard, there was an awkward attempted handoff that got stuffed, and they punted.
The Cards then got two huge breaks – Derek Barnett’s egregious hit out of bounds on DeAndre Hopkins, and a short pass to Cards tight end Maxx Williams that went for 43 yards because Jalen Mills missed the tackle. Next play, Kyler Murray juked Epps and ran it in from the 8.
Then, another terrible Eagles series got worse when Dennis Gardeck blew through Cam Johnston’s protection and blocked Johnston’s punt, the first time that has happened to Johnston in his three years with the Eagles.
Arizona got the ball at the Eagles’ 6 and needed two plays to make it 16-0.
But Hurts suddenly started putting it together. Third-and-20 from the Cards’ 32, he tossed a screen to little-used rookie wideout Quez Watkins, who spun beautifully, picked up blocks from Goedert and Jordan Mailata, and kept running down the left sideline until he found the end zone. It was Watkins’ second career reception, his first having come a week earlier against the Saints.
Jacquet then sacked Murray, and Robey-Coleman knocked the ball out, so the Eagles got it back at the Cards’ 21. Fourth-and-3 from the Cards’ 4, Hurts rolled left and found Ward for a touchdown.
Arizona’s offense kept putting up points against the Eagles’ disjointed secondary, though, Murray completing 13 passes in a row at one point. The Cardinals made it 26-14 on Larry Fitzgerald’s ninth career touchdown against the Eagles, with 2 minutes, 13 seconds remaining in the first half. Without looking it up, we’re going to guess Tom Brookshier was in coverage for his first.
Hurts got the Eagles moving again. His scramble bought time for Zach Ertz to get open for 42 yards, and then he found Ward for the touchdown that made it 26-20 at halftime.
The Eagles kicked the extra point, the Cards were offside, and the Eagles then went for two – but the shotgun handoff to Miles Sanders did not get the job done.
This loomed larger when the Eagles announced Johnston – the holder for kicks – was out with a concussion. Hurts tied the score with an amazing 7-yard scramble up the middle, dragging safety Budda Baker into the end zone, but the extra point to take the lead was never attempted. Rick Lovato bounced the snap to backup holder Zach Ertz.
Murray got the Cardinals the lead again with a touchdown pass to Hopkins with 7:17 left. Murray was 27-for-36 for 406 yards, three touchdowns, and a pick. Hopkins caught nine passes, on 11 targets, for 169 of those yards and the fatal TD, over a game effort by Jacquet.
“When I look back on this game, what I think about is simply not being enough,” Hurts said. “Left money on the table. Missed opportunities and self-inflicted wounds. I could care less to hear any of the ‘young’ stuff, ‘second start’ stuff, ‘rookie’ stuff. You know, we have a standard we want to play to. I personally have a standard I want to play to. You got to find a way to get it done.”