NFC East Reporter
PHILADELPHIA – The Philadelphia Eagles weren’t the Eagles when Jalen Hurts wasn’t on the field late in the season. Even when he came back and played injured, they didn’t look like themselves.
But on Saturday night, the real Jalen Hurts returned just in time for the divisional playoffs. And for the Eagles, it made all the difference in the world.
“Having him out is like, he shouldn’t even be there, but it’s like having Michael Jordan out,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said after Philadelphia beat the New York Giants 38-7 . “He’s your leader. He’s your guy. This guy leads, he brings that calmness to the whole team, he plays great football, he’s as confident as they come.
“For me, there is no one who has played better football than him.”
That was incredibly “high praise” for Hurts, as even Sirianni admitted, and probably even a little over the top. But for the Eagles (14-4), who will now face either the Dallas Cowboys or the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game here in Philly next Sunday, it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch. That’s how important the 24-year-old quarterback is to this team.
And it goes far beyond his numbers, which weren’t exactly Jordan’s in the second playoff game of his career. Hurts completed 16 of 24 passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns and ran nine times for 34 yards and a touchdown, a decent outing to be sure. But it was more about how he helped open things up for an offense that just couldn’t be stopped.
With Hurts back, the Eagles rushed for a ridiculous 268 yards. And they absolutely dominated the Giants defense in the first half, when they built a 28-0 lead. They were outgaining the Giants 258 yards to 64. They had 18 first downs to the Giants’ three. Heck, they had more touchdowns (four) than the Giants had first downs. They outshot the Giants 140-20. They held the ball for 20:12 to the Giants’ 9:48.
In the NFL, losses don’t get much more comprehensive than that.
And no, it wasn’t all painful. The Eagles’ defense was all over Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (15-for-27, 135 yards and an interception). They didn’t give up on Saquon Barkley, who had just seven of his 61 yards in the first half. And the Eagles’ offensive line absolutely manhandled a Giants defensive front that includes all-pro defensive tackles Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams.
But Hurts is what brought the Giants down. The last time they faced him, in the regular-season finale, he was still nursing a sprained right shoulder, an injury still so bad the Eagles only called for one running game for him all match But in this game, Sirianni and offensive coordinator Shane Steichen made it clear from the start that “nothing was off limits.”
Hurts was completely unleashed, early on, and that put Wink Martindale’s Giants defense right back.
“We wanted to do the things that were best for us, knowing that Jalen had no limitations,” Sirianni said. “We don’t think, ‘Hey, we’re going to show you guys.’ He was ready to go and we did the things that worked best for us.”
They made it abundantly clear early in the game: a quick eight-play, 75-yard march for a touchdown. On the second play, Hurts erased any doubts about his shoulder strength, hitting DeVonta Smith downfield for a 40-yard gain. He showed he could take a hit, too, on two designed runs late in the drive, just before his 16-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dallas Goedert.
That showed the Giants that while Hurts’ shoulder isn’t 100 percent yet, it was “good enough” — as Hurts described it — for him to do everything.
“He looked like the old Jalen to me,” running back Miles Sanders said. “I’m not going to lie.”
“It set the tone,” Goedert added. “And we all followed.”
Yes they did, especially on the ground. Sanders rushed 17 times for 90 yards. Kenneth Gainwell chipped in for 112 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. Boston Scott added 32 yards on six carries, with his usual touchdown against the Giants, too. There were holes everywhere, created by the Eagles’ powerful offensive line, as the Giants kept second-guessing whether Hurts would hand it off or run it himself.
That, Sanders said, “had his defense tired the whole game.” It certainly showed in the fourth quarter, when the Giants have often been at their best this season. The Eagles got the ball back with 13:12 left in the game, after Giants coach Brian Daboll made the odd decision to punt on a 4th-and-5 from the Giants 42 with his team down 28-7. and they are just sent through an obviously. Giants defense depleted. They finished the game with a 15-play, 70-yard, eight-minute drive in which they ran 11 times with four different players carrying the ball. Doing even splashy damage in a couple of passes, too.
With Hurts running the show, running the offense, the Eagles basically did what they wanted to the Giants, the way they wanted to do it.
“I think the biggest thing is we’ve been able to be effective in every way possible,” Hurts said. “That’s all you can ask for as an offense. It’s a good thing to have. It’s something special when you can do all that. It’s like, ‘Pick your poison.’
Grief, however, is the straw that stirs this poison. He’s what makes the Eagles so dangerous, even if he’s not doing the damage himself.
“Jalen is always going to help the run game a lot because of what he can do and the threat he is in the backfield,” Sirianni said. “He doesn’t bring it. But he’s still going to impact the game. And that’s what he did. He impacted the game. And he runs the show out there. He’s like the point guard out there.”
“He’s the captain of the ship,” Sanders added. “It makes things a lot easier, it does.”
Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him on Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.
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