NFC East Reporter
PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Eagles just weren’t the Eagles when Jalen Hurts wasn’t on the court late in the season. Even when he came back and played injured, they just didn’t look alike.
But on Saturday night, the real Jalen Hurts returned just in time for the split playoffs. And for the Eagles, he made all the difference in the world.
“Having him there is like – I shouldn’t even go – but it’s like having Michael Jordan there,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said after Philadelphia beat the Giants of New York 38-7. “He’s your leader. He’s your guy. This guy leads, he brings that calm to the whole team, he plays great football, he’s as confident as he can be.
“For me, no one has played better football than him.”
It was incredibly “complimentary” for Hurts, as even Sirianni admitted, and probably even a little over the top. But for the Eagles (14-4) — who will now face the Dallas Cowboys or San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game here in Philly next Sunday — that doesn’t seem like a stretch. That’s how important the 24-year-old quarterback is to this team.
And that goes far beyond his numbers, which weren’t exactly Jordanian 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 it all up for an offense that just couldn’t be stopped.
With Hurts back, the Eagles ran for a ridiculous 268 yards. And they absolutely dominated the Giants defense in the first half, when they took a 28-0 lead. They then gained 258 yards to the Giants’ 64. They had 18 first downs against the Giants’ three. Heck, they had more touchdowns (four) than the Giants had first downs. They beat the Giants 140-20. They held the ball for 8:12 p.m. compared to 9:48 for the Giants.
In the NFL, beatings don’t get much deeper than that.
And no, that wasn’t all Hurts. The Eagles defense was all over Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (15 of 27, 135 yards and one interception). They left no room for Saquon Barkley, who had just seven of his 61 yards in the first half. And the Eagles offensive line has completely mishandled a Giants defensive front that includes all-pro defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams.
But Hurts is what baffled the Giants. The last time they faced him, in the regular season finale, he was still nursing a sprained right shoulder – an injury still as serious as the Eagles called just one running game. for him in this whole game. But in this game, Sirianni and offensive coordinator Shane Steichen made it clear early on that “nothing was off limits.”
Hurts was completely unleashed, early on, and it immediately put Wink Martindale’s Giants defense back on its heels.
“We wanted to do what was best for us, knowing that Jalen had no limits,” Sirianni said. “We don’t think like, ‘Hey, let’s show you guys.’ He was ready to go and we did the things that worked best for us.”
They said it very clearly on the first drive of the game – a brisk walk of eight plays and 75 yards for a touchdown. On the second play, Hurts erased any doubt about the strength of his shoulder, knocking DeVonta Smith downfield for a 40-yard gain. He showed he could take a hit too, on two runs made late in practice, just before his 16-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dallas Goedert.
It showed the Giants that while Hurts’ shoulder still isn’t 100%, it was “good enough” – as Hurts described it – for him to do anything.
“He looked like the old Jalen to me,” running back Miles Sanders said. “I’m not going to lie.”
“He set the tone,” Goedert added. “And we all followed.”
Yes, they did, especially on the pitch. Sanders rushed 17 times for 90 yards. Kenneth Gainwell had 112 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. Boston Scott added 32 yards on six carries, also adding his usual touchdown against the Giants. There were holes everywhere, created by the Eagles’ powerful offensive line, as the Giants had to guess whether Hurts would pass it on or direct it himself.
This, Sanders said, “tired their defense the whole game.” This showed well in the fourth quarter, when the Giants have often been at their best this season. The Eagles won the ball with 13:12 left in the game, after Giants coach Brian Daboll made the odd decision to kick a 4th-and-5 from the Giants 42 with his team down 28-7, and they just walked through an obviously exhausted Giants defense. They put the game aside with a 15-play, 70-yard, eight-minute run in which they ran 11 times with four different players carrying the ball. It hurts even sprinkled in a few passes too.
With Hurts running the show, leading the offense, the Eagles basically did what they wanted to the Giants, the way they wanted to do it.
“I think the most important thing is that we were able to be effective in every way possible,” Hurts said. “It’s all you can ask for as an offense. It’s a good thing to have. It’s a special thing when you’re able to do all of that. It’s kind of like ‘Choose your poison’.”
Evil, however, is the chaff that stirs this poison. He’s what makes the Eagles so dangerous, even if he doesn’t do the damage himself.
“Jalen is always going to help the running game a lot because of what he can do and the threat he poses at the back,” Sirianni said. “He’s not wearing it. But he’s still going to affect the game. And he did. He affected the game. And he runs the show there. He’s like the point guard there. .”
“He’s the captain of the ship,” Sanders added. “He makes things much easier, yes he 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 NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him on Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.
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