THAT JALEN HURTS SHOULDERED BLAME FOR DALLAS LOSS IS A SIGN OF A LEADER IN THE MAKING
It is correctly said that quarterbacks typically get too much credit when things go well and too much blame when they don’t.
There definitely was plenty of blame to go around the Eagles locker room following their lopsided 41-21 Week 3 loss to the Dallas Cowboys – a cockeyed offensive game plan that saw running backs Miles Sanders and Kenny Gainwell carry the ball just three times, an offensive line that got outplayed by the Cowboys’ defensive line, a defense that was gashed for 155 rushing yards by Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, a whopping 13 penalties that brought their season total to a league-high 35.
Nevertheless, Jalen Hurts insisted the buck stopped with him.
“This one’s on me,” the second-year Eagles quarterback said after throwing two interceptions against the Cowboys, including a pick-6 at the start of the second half that effectively put the kibosh to any realistic comeback hopes.
“I take complete ownership for how I played and how it affected the team. I have to do a better job, clearly. I’m going to learn from it and we’re going to be a better team because of it.”
It’s true that Hurts didn’t play well in his seventh NFL start.
Completed 25 of 39 passes and threw two TDs, including a nifty on-the-run 15-yarder to wide receiver Greg Ward late in the game.
But he missed other passes that could have kept drives alive, and caused a pair of illegal-man-downfield penalties by hanging on to the ball too long on a couple of RPO plays, and had those two picks.
The first one came on the Eagles’ opening drive.
After completing a 38-yard pass to tight end Dallas Goedert and a five-yard pass to rookie wide receiver DeVonta Smith to give the Eagles a first down at the Dallas 32, Hurts underthrew a vertical route down the right sideline to Jalen Reagor, who had a step on Cowboys cornerback Anthony Brown.
Had a chance to be a touchdown. Instead, Cowboys cornerback Anthony Brown intercepted the short pass at the Dallas one.
As it happened, the Eagles ended up scoring anyway two plays later when defensive tackle Javon Hargrave knocked the ball out of Dak Prescott’s hand in the end zone and linemate Fletcher Cox recovered the fumble in the air for a touchdown.
Hurts’ second pick, though, was much more costly. Despite giving up 19 first downs and 261 total yards to the Cowboys in the first half, the Eagles only trailed at intermission by 13 points, and were getting the ball to open the second half.
If they had been able to drive down and score, they would’ve been right back in the game. Hurts and Goedert teamed up on a 28-yard catch and run on the first play of the third quarter. But then Hurts missed the wide-open tight end on a five-yard cross one play later.
The next play was supposed to be a five-yard square-out to Smith. But Smith slipped and Hurts threw behind him and Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs stepped in front of the falling Smith and picked off the pass and took it 59 yards for a touchdown. Game, set, match.
“I don’t think Jalen played his best game,” first-year head coach Nick Sirianni said. “But I don’t necessarily think he played a bad game.
“When you lose like we lost to the Cowboys, we all need to improve. We all need to look in the mirror, starting with myself. But I do like the fact that he’s taking accountability for the things that he feels like he messed up on. The players on this team look up to Jalen and the things he says and does.”
Hurts is a natural leader. Might be the best leader the Eagles have had at quarterback since Van Brocklin. Or at least Jaworski.
But leadership ability isn’t enough. Hurts is on a one-year trial to prove to Sirianni and general manager Howie Roseman that he is good enough to be their long-term starting quarterback.
That’s the Eagles top priority this season. Even more important than making the playoffs. They need to find out whether the 23-year-old Houston native can be their version of Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen or Kyler Murray.
If they conclude that he can be, then they can make hay with those three (assuming Carson Wentz plays three-quarters of the snaps for the Colts) 2022 first-round picks in their pocket and potentially improve the rest of their team.
If they conclude that he can’t be, then at least two of those picks probably will be devoted to finding a replacement.
My feeling? I think Hurts has the right stuff to be a franchise quarterback. Does he need to keep improving? Yes. And I think he will.
Don’t look for that improvement to translate into Ws right away.
The Eagles are about to embark on a Murderer’s Row month of games against the last two Super Bowl champions (the Chiefs and Bucs) and road tilts to Charlotte and Las Vegas against the unbeaten Panthers and Raiders.
If they can somehow break even in those four games, Sirianni should get some coach of the year consideration.
“Jalen is 23 years old and everyone is acting like this is his fault,” tight end Zach Ertz said after the loss to the Cowboys. “He’s going to be a great player for a long time in this league.”
I’ve been covering pro football for nearly 40 years. I’ve listened to God knows how many players sit there and take blame for a loss. Most of the time, they’re just mouthing the words. Most of the time, they don’t mean it.
But Monday night, Hurts meant it.
“Losses like that don’t happen because of one guy,” three-time All-Pro center Jason Kelce said. “But that’s the way you would expect Jalen to feel.
“The bottom line is leaders – really, really good players – feel they completely control the situation, particularly at the quarterback position. We have to play much, much better across the board. But that’s the kind of attitude you want Jalen to have, even though that clearly was not the case.” *