During a holiday season when good things come in small packages, the undersized 6-foot, 170-pound DeVonta Smith is as good as it gets.
Smith is known for his acrobatic catches, precise route-running, toughness and blazing speed but his easiest catch in the Eagles’ 25-20 victory over the Bears on Sunday might have been the most important.
The Eagles were buried, third-and-10 at their own 4-yard line, less than two minutes to play in third quarter. Without a first down conversion, the Eagles would punt from their end zone and Chicago likely would have excellent field position.
This game, expected to be relatively easy, was a struggle. The Eagles only led, 17-13.
Quarterback Jalen Hurts stood in his end zone in the shotgun. He took the snap, made a quick pivot to the right and threw a short, simple pass to Smith, whose route was to just stand in place.
The second-year wide receiver caught the pass with his right foot in the end zone. He burst forward, worked his way through traffic, broke a tackle and gained a crucial 14 yards and a first down.
- “We was backed up,” Smith said. “The key to backed up is to get a first down, get two first downs. That was the first thing. Got the first one, and once we got it, looked back at the situation and did what we have to do.”
The Eagles continued their time-consuming drive, going to the Bears’ 20 before Jake Elliott single-doinked a field goal attempt off the right upright. The Eagles went 76 yards in 19 plays but came away empty on the scoreboard.
Maybe equal to the potential points was the 8:38 the Eagles melted from the clock.
Smith made other major contributions with five catches for 126 yards. Smith has 66 catches for 901 yards, with three games to play. Last season, he had 64 catches for 916 yards.
Smith made several twisting catches in traffic against the Bears along the sidelines. He cut across the middle for a short completion that his speed turned into a 45-yard gain in the second quarter, leading to a 3-0 Eagles lead.
As strong a game as Smith had, teammate A.J. Brown’s might have been better.
Brown had nine catches for 181 yards, including an over-the-shoulder grab for 68 yards late in the fourth quarter that put the Eagles at the Bears’ 3. Hurts scored three plays later to increase the Eagles’ lead to 25-13.
- “They brought him to do the things that he did today,” Smith said about Brown. “Just going out there, the energy that he brings to the team, it brings the best out of everybody.”
Brown and Smith could become the first Eagles’ receivers to have 1,000-yard seasons in the same year. Brown became the Eagles’ 23rd 1,000-yard receiver this season and now has 1,201 yards on 74 receptions.
Brown and Smith complement each other — the fast, wispy Smith running precise routes; Brown going up and catching passes with defenders surrounding him. With their speed and strength, both are threats with the ball in their hands.
Smith was asked whether he felt threatened when the Eagles traded for Brown.
- “Him coming in was good,” Smith said. “One, it kinda gets some of the attention off of me. And just being able to learn from a guy like him, great receiver, great leader, great guy overall.
- “Just him coming in and teaching me some things that allow me to elevate my game some.”
The Eagles struggled somewhat on offense against the Bears and so did Hurts. They looked out of rhythm because of the weather and the Bears’ tenacious defense.
Hurts took some big hits. He threw two interceptions, after throwing only three in the first 13 games. Still, he threw for 315 yards and rushed for 61 yards on 17 attempts.
- “I think the work we put in the offseason is a testament to what’s going on now on the field,” Hurts said.
- “I don’t make it more than what it is. I think we work really hard, a lot of time put in that nobody sees …
- “We get to go out there and express that on Sundays. We stay together …
- “We have a true eagerness to do stuff the right way, the way we want to do it. So when things are looking a certain way on the field, or maybe it’s not what we want it to be, we stay together and find a way to fix it.”
Hurts said he had faith, even as the Bears made the game tight and uncomfortable.
- “I know I never have a doubt in the outcome of what we want and what we work for,” Hurts said. “I want those guys to look me in the eyes and know that there’s not a doubt.
- “With the preparation that we put in together, that we’ll find a way. I want them to have that trust in me.
- “So, you look at A.J. Brown stepping up and making big-time plays down the field; Smitty. Everybody showed up when it was needed and that’s what the great players and great teams do.”
At 13-1, one win away from clinching home-field in the playoffs, there is plenty of joy in the Eagles’ world.