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Jalen Hurts channels Steve Young, plays his best game to keep the Eagles in the NFL playoff race | Marcus Hayes

Sound mechanics. Superb decisions. Incredible accuracy. Is this really Jalen Hurts?

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts celebrates as he leaves the field after his best game as a pro.
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts celebrates as he leaves the field after his best game as a pro.Read moreMatt Slocum / AP

I did not see this coming. Neither did you.

Out of nowhere, Jalen Hurts suddenly quarterbacked with polished mechanics. He exercised patience and showed poise in the pocket. He deciphered Washington’s defense, and he made excellent decisions and, on a bad wheel, was the best player on the field.

Hurts won a crucial game, 27-17, and brought the Birds to 7-7. He’s compiled bigger numbers but he’s never played a better game.

His 76.9% completion rate, second-best of his brief career, told part of the story. There was so much more. He threw passes with zip and touch. He used his eyes to trick the defense. He avoided his legs as much as possible.

Hurts looked ... competent.

Who was this guy?

How did this happen?

Hurts hadn’t played in 23 days because he’d injured an ankle at the end the worst of his 16 career starts. But, amazingly, in that three-week period he became possessed by the spirit of Steve Young. (Don’t tell Steve Young, because he’s still alive.)

Who knows? Maybe the ankle injury limited Hurts, and so made him play the position as it is intended.

Regardless, if you know what you’re looking at, then you know you looked at something remarkable Tuesday night. Something incredible. A second-tier, long-term quarterback project like Hurts doesn’t turn into a top-10 field general this after playing playground football for two seasons. But, somehow, Hurts did. Astonishing. Dumbfounding.

If Hurts does it again, and again, and again, the Eagles will almost certainly make the playoffs. They trail the 7-7 Vikings by the common-opponents tiebreaker, but the Vikings play the Rams and Packers the next two weeks. The Eagles play the Giants and Washington again, then host the Cowboys in the finale, but the ‘Boys’ playoff position could be sealed by then.

Frankly, if Hurts plays like this, the Cowboys can bring their best game to Philly on Jan. 9. It won’t matter.

Are you kiddin’ me?

Hurts’ best future always projected him as the next Steve Young but, until Tuesday, Hurts had looked more like the next Steve Grogan. He struggled so badly to run an NFL offense that head coach Nick Sirianni abandoned his preferred scheme and turned into the 1985 Chicago Bears, who were the last team to rush for at least 175 yards in seven consecutive weeks.

Hurts passed the ball only 26 times Tuesday, but he completed 20 of them, and two were dropped by Dallas Goedert, his most reliable target, and one hacky-sacked off Goedert’s heel for an unfair interception. (Of course, Hurts had thrown several interceptable passes in his 12 other starts this season that were not intercepted, so it all balances out.)

Eagles running backs ran the ball 33 times, or about half of the offensive plays, but that shouldn’t diminish Hurts’ efficiency. He had plenty of chances to lose the game. Instead, he won it.

He wasn’t perfect. He took two atrocious sacks on the Eagles’ second possession, fumbled the ball away on the second one, and got hollered at by Sirianni ... but he was 3-for-4 to that point. He’d had a promising start.

He got better.

The plays

  1. Near the end of the first quarter, Hurts pulled back a handoff from Jordan Howard and, as he rolled left, hit Miles Sanders for 16 yards — a play brilliant in design but dependent on Hurts hitting Sanders in stride. That has been a problem for Hurts. Not Tuesday.

  2. Early in the second quarter, Hurts fired a 45-yard bomb into double coverage that Goedert wrestled away from safety Jeremy Reaves — a pass not thrown perfectly, but it was deep enough to erase beaten cornerback Darryl Roberts. That set up the Eagles’ first score, a field goal. Hurts has seldom delivered the ball deep enough on long routes. Not Tuesday.

  3. On the Eagles’ next drive, Hurts converted a third-and-5 with an 8-yard pass to Goedert, made possible when Hurts looked off the linebacker and came back to where he knew Goedert would be open, in the middle of the field, and fired it right on time. Hurts has stared down receivers all season, and he’s avoided the middle of the field. Not Tuesday.

  4. That conversion made the next play possible: Hurts felt pressure from his left, stepped up in the pocket to his left, kept his eyes downfield, ignored a running lane, and floated a 17-yard pass that even Jalen Reagor couldn’t drop. Hurts has been reluctant to throw to his left this season and inefficient when he does. Not Tuesday.

  5. Later in that drive, Hurts dropped back, floated left, stepped into a throw, and found Goedert — his third read — with a 21-yard pass that set up the tying touchdown. Hurts has been reluctant to process beyond two reads, after which he tends to break from the pocket and drop his eyes. Not Tuesday.

  6. Hurts, on the first drive of the third quarter, faked a throw to receiver DeVonta Smith to move a linebacker away from Goedert, whom he then hit for 20 yards set up the go-ahead touchdown. Smith wasn’t well-covered, but Hurts knew Goedert would be uncovered. Hurts has often forced the first read. Not Tuesday.

  7. Hurts delivered his prettiest throw of the night in the fourth quarter, when he found his comfort zone. He rolled right, locked on Greg Ward, and fired a bullet to Ward’s right. Ward twisted away from coverage and snared it for the 19-yard touchdown that gave the Eagles their 10-point margin of victory.

Young, man

Steve Young won two MVP awards, went to seven Pro Bowls, and won Super Bowl XXIX. Jalen Hurts is not Steve Young, because Young didn’t do Young for one game; he did Steve Young for seven seasons, from 1992-98, when he led the NFL in completion percentage five times.

That was the genius of Steve Young, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound athlete with modest arm strength. This can be the salvation of Jalen Hurts, a 6-foot-1, 223-pound athlete with modest arm strength.

Known for his running ability — his 4,239 rushing yards is still fifth all-time among quarterbacks, ahead of both Steve McNair and Donovan McNabb — Young ran, but only when he had to. He collected just over 25 yards on the ground per game, and he averaged less than 30 passes per game.

Hurts ran for 38 yards on Tuesday, the third-lowest total for any of the 16 NFL games that he both started and finished. He’s 2-1 in those games, 5-8 in the rest. It’s a template.

If this is Hurts’ ceiling, he can beat anyone. Because before Tuesday, too often, he was beating himself.