Judging by Doug Pederson’s postgame news conference, you might have thought Jalen Hurts played as poorly Sunday as Carson Wentz had for most of the first 12 games of the Eagles’ season.
Hurts was very good in his first career NFL start. Considering the opponent, its No. 1-ranked defense, and the circumstances of having to replace the franchise quarterback, he was excellent in the Eagles’ 24-21 upset win over the Saints.
The rookie quarterback was decisive, he looked confident and he brought an element to the offense it had been lacking with Wentz. Hurts was efficient with his arm and avoided interceptions, but his legs were the difference as he rushed for 106 yards on 18 carries.
Many of those runs were scrambles, but they’re yards nonetheless and the Saints had few answers once he got cooking. The Hurts threat also opened up running lanes for running back Miles Sanders, who finished with 115 yards rushing on 14 carries and two touchdowns.
Sanders’ first score went 82 yards on an inside zone read play. His second came from 1 yard out late in the fourth quarter that essentially sealed the victory for the 4-8-1 Eagles. Hurts danced in the end zone with Sanders, his youthful exuberance emblematic of the swagger teammates have said he’s brought to the team.
“He played awesome today,” Sanders said. “The tape shows for itself. He’s so confident and he’s a natural leader.”
Told of Sanders’ “natural leader” comment, Pederson tempered his.
“I would say that’s pretty accurate,” he said.
The Eagles coach’s entire news conference struck an odd tone as he sought to downplay Hurts’ outing.
“I thought, overall, there was some good things,” Pederson said of Hurts. “It kind of gave us a spark as a team that I was looking for. … This win today is not about one guy. This win is about this team and how resilient this team is.”
Yes, the Eagles ending a four-game losing streak took all players and all phases. But it was clear that Wentz’s benching buoyed the squad, not only their collective mental states, but also their execution on the field.
The offense wasn’t stagnant. The run game was effective. The quarterback wasn’t a sitting duck in the pocket and wasn’t sacked once. Hurts didn’t force passes. He didn’t play with the weight of the team on his shoulders much like Wentz appeared to do with each passing week.
Pederson, obviously, didn’t go overboard with his praise of Hurts as to not slight Wentz. But aside from not being accurate, it also suggested the following: That Wentz’s confidence is fragile or Pederson believes it to be so.
“I have to take into consideration the entire football team,” Pederson said when asked if his tempered comments were because of Wentz. “Jalen played well. Obviously we won the game. But there were a lot of good performances out there tonight.”