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After awful start, Jalen Hurts gets Eagles into a shootout with Cardinals, and comes up just short at the end

Martin Frank
Delaware News Journal

It doesn't mean much to Jalen Hurts right now, but he should certainly remain the Eagles' starting quarterback the rest of the way after nearly leading the Eagles back from a 16-point deficit in the first quarter.

Hurts, starting his second game in place of Carson Wentz, had the Eagles 31 yards from the potential game-tying touchdown. He threw incomplete twice on Hail Mary passes into the end zone, and the Eagles fell 33-26 to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

For now, Hurts didn't want to hear about that, saying, "you'll have to ask coach," about whether he thinks he should start the final two games. Hurts was the Eagles' second-round pick last spring.

And Hurts certainly didn't feel like he played well enough, even though he went 24 of 44 for 338 yards and 3 touchdowns. He also ran for 63 yards on 11 carries. His passer rating for the game was 102.8. Wentz had never eclipsed 100 (158.3 is a perfect score) in any of his 11 starts this season.

"I look back on this game, and what I think about is simply not being enough," Hurts said. "Simply not being enough. We’re a good enough team where we control our own destiny to go out there. We left money on the table. Missed opportunities and self-inflicted wounds. I (couldn’t) care less to hear any of the young stuff, second start stuff, rookie stuff."

Still, he had the Eagles on the verge of tying the game in the final seconds. From the Cardinals' 31 yard line, Dallas Goedert got his hands on the first attempt into the end zone, but he couldn't hold onto the ball with a Cardinals defender draped all over him. That came with 2 seconds left.

The second attempt was batted away as time expired.

Pederson wouldn't say after the game if Hurts will continue to start, but that seems like a mere formality.

"I thought he had great poise out there, great leadership," Pederson said. "Played obviously physically tough, mentally tough. Made some really good throws down the stretch, especially in the second half when we had to put a couple drives together.

"I’ll probably have a decision for you (Monday) on next week. I'm trying to get through this game first."

There was a lot to get through.

As well as Hurts played after the first quarter, he was outdueled by Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, who preceded Hurts by one year at Oklahoma. Murray, who starred at Oklahoma in 2018, completed 27 of 36 passes for 406 yards and 3 TDs. Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins had 9 catches for 169 yards and the game-winning touchdown.

In all, the Cardinals had 526 yards of offense against an Eagles secondary missing three of its four starters.

The Eagles (4-9-1) remained 1 1/2 games behind Washington (6-8) in the NFC East with two games remaining. They can still win the division despite falling into last place, behind Dallas and the Giants (both 5-9).

But the Eagles can still win the division with two straight wins to end the season and two losses by Washington. The two teams play in the season finale on Jan. 3.

The Eagles got behind early, beginning with a safety when Hurts was called for intentional grounding in the end zone. That was followed by a missed tackle by Jalen Mills leading to a 42-yard gain on the Cardinals' next possession, setting up a touchdown; and a blocked punt that enabled the Cardinals to start its next possession on the Eagles' 11 that led to another touchdown.

Just like that, the Eagles were down by 16-0 with 2:18 left in the first quarter.

"We self destructed, man, in the first quarter," Pederson said in an understatement. "Gosh, blocked punt, we had the safety, just mistakes, penalties. We lined up wrong a couple times offensively."

Yet Hurts and the offense got going. His 32-yard TD pass to rookie Quez Watkins, on a nice spin move by Watkins before taking down the sideline, got the Eagles on the board.

Then they took advantage of a Murray fumble, forced by rookie cornerback Michael Jacquet, starting in place of Darius Slay. The Eagles took over at the Cardinals' 21 and scored on Hurts' 3-yard TD pass to Greg Ward.

Hurts and Ward connected from 5 yards out with 1:18 left in the first half to pull the Eagles to within 26-20.

After the TD pass, TV replays showed Wentz giving Hurts a fist bump on the sidelines. But Hurts and the Eagles weren't done. They tied the game at 26-26 on Hurts' 7-yard TD run with 55 seconds left in the third quarter.

The Eagles had a chance for the lead, but the extra point was aborted. That's because Zach Ertz was the holder in place of punter Cameron Johnston, who left the game with a concussion on a blocked punt in the first quarter.

But Murray and Hopkins connected on the Cardinals' go-ahead touchdown from 20 yards out with 7:17 remaining.

The Eagles then reached the Cardinals' 11 with 3 minutes to go. But Hurts was sacked on two straight dropbacks, setting up 3rd-and-21 from the Cardinals' 22. Hurts threw incomplete on third and fourth downs.

"We had an opportunity," Hurts said. "I took two sacks and you can’t take any kind of sacks in a two-minute drill."

The Eagles had one last chance, taking over at their 22 with 1:28 left. Hurts completed two passes to Travis Fulgham to get to the Cardinals' 31 with 20 seconds left before Hurts' two attempts into the end zone fell incomplete.

Finally, the Eagles ran out of chances, but Hurts most likely has not.

"You never really know much about guys until they play," Pederson said. "I think what he’s done, what he’s capable of doing … obviously, he’s a motivated athlete, motivated quarterback. He’s driven. And that’s a good thing."

Saints' Michael Thomas (13) makes a reception over Eagles' Darius Slay (24) Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020 in Philadelphia. The Eagles won 24-21.

Jake the punter

Jake Elliott was the Eagles' punter in the second half as Johnston was evaluated for a concussion, most likely sustained on the Cardinals' blocked punt in the first quarter.

Elliott has never punted before in an NFL game. His first punt, midway through the third quarter, went for 34 yards.

That hurt the Eagles on an extra point, however, as Johnston is typically the holder. Zach Ertz took his place and couldn't handle the low snap from Rick Lovato. 

"He gets snaps," Pederson said about Ertz as the backup holder. "It’s unfortunate. Rick put a bad snap back there. And it was on the ground. Zach did the best he could right there to put the ball down."

Slay out, Eagles shorthanded in secondary

The Eagles were shorthanded in the secondary without three of their four starters after Darius Slay was ruled out with a concussion. The Eagles also held out two of their young wide receivers in rookie John Hightower and 2019 second-round pick J.J. Arcega-Whiteside for non-injury reasons.

That means rookie Quez Watkins was on the game-day roster, as was veteran Alshon Jeffery, who had just 3 receptions for 30 yards in his first five games. Jeffery did have a 24-yard reception in the first quarter.

The Eagles' other inactives were QB Nate Sudfeld, RB Jason Huntley and DB Grayland Arnold.

Contact Martin Frank at mfrank@delawareonline.com. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.