Hurts holds up in debut, Rekindles Birds’ playoff hopes
On Sunday, Eagles’ fans felt genuine happiness for what felt like the first time all season. As heavy underdogs and led by a rookie quarterback, they managed to defeat the New Orleans Saints 24-21. The victory brings the Birds record to 4-8-1 and keeps their hopes of stealing the top spot in the NFC East alive. Meanwhile, this loss knocks the Saints out of pole position for the top seed in the NFC as their 10-3 record mirrors the Green Bay Packers (who own the tiebreaker). Find out just how effective Jalen Hurts played and other game storylines below.
Hurts Displays the Dual-Threat is Real
Heading into this matchup, it was expected that both quarterbacks would utilize their rushing ability to keep the opposing defenses guessing. Jalen Hurts absolutely got the best of Taysom Hill in that department as he led the entire Eagles team in carries; topping the century mark with 106 yards on 18 attempts. His long run of the day was only 24 yards, but Hurts used his legs effectively possession after possession to keep the sticks moving and turn would-be sacks into positive yardage.
His passing statline wasn’t anything prolific, as he completed 17 of 30 passes for 167 yards and a touchdown. However, one has to keep in mind that the Saints defense is one of the toughest in the entire league and this was only his first time playing a full NFL game. Those excuses won’t be there long for Hurts, but as he becomes more comfortable in the offense those numbers should improve. His favorite target in the early going has been Dallas Goedert, who caught four of six targets this game for 43 yards. Meanwhile, Alshon Jeffery caught Hurts’ sole touchdown pass on a 15 yard connection in the second quarter.
The most significant takeaway from Hurts’ debut is that he didn’t make any serious mistakes. He did exactly what the Eagles asked of him in playing a turnover free game and his dangerous rushing ability mitigates a lot of decimating sacks for loss that Wentz repeatedly took during the season.
All Smiles for Miles
Running back Miles Sanders entered this game on a cold streak but turned it around in a big way when the Eagles needed him most. Sanders was featured prominently both on run-pass option schemes with Hurts and as the pure between-the-tackles runner. On the day, he was superbly effective with his 14 carries, going for 115 yards and two scores.
Both of his scores came at crucial moments for the Birds. The first was an electric 82 yard sprint late in the second quarter that increased the Eagles’ lead to 17-0 before halftime. The Saints did mount a furious comeback in the second half, and midway through the fourth quarter the Eagles only found themselves with a narrow 17-14 lead. They turned once again to Sanders, who located paydirt from the one yard line to give him his first multi-touchdown performance since week 5. Sanders also contributed four receptions for 21 yards on the day.
The Playoff Picture
While the Birds’ primary focus was on the game in front of them, they also had to be curious to see how the New York Giants and Washington Football Team, two teams ahead of them in the NFC East race, fared on Sunday. The Giants submitted a clunker of a performance, falling to the Cardinals 26-7. Meanwhile, Washington defeated the San Francisco 49ers 23-15 and now assumes first place in the division.
There’s no hope for any NFC East team to squeak into a wildcard slot so it’s division or bust for all of these teams. The Birds are just a half game back of the Giants but trail Washington by slightly more than a full game (the percentages are a little complicated with the Eagles early season tie). Birds’ fans need to hope both of those franchises drop games in the coming weeks. The Eagles will match up against the Washington Football Team in their last game of the season, a contest that could very well decide the division if the Eagles can catch some breaks down the stretch.
A Look Ahead
Of course, any chance the Eagles have at making the playoffs is contingent on their continued success week to week. After defeating a team as competent as the New Orleans Saints, the Birds shouldn’t be afraid of anybody. But they also should be ready to meet stiff competition as teams will now be working hard to game plan against Jalen Hurts and take away his strengths. The Eagles will travel to Arizona to face to face the Arizona Cardinals next Sunday.