The one player on the Eagles’ roster they couldn’t afford to lose — they might have lost.
The one player who is most responsible for the Eagles’ 13-1 record — they might have lost.
The one player who can lead the Eagles to the Super Bowl will be on the sideline Saturday in Dallas — likely watching, not playing.
As first reported by NFL Network, quarterback Jalen Hurts suffered a right shoulder sprain against the Bears on Sunday and is expected to miss some game time. The prognosis is that he’ll miss one game, maybe, or more.
If Hurts only misses a game or two, the Eagles dodged a bullet. With so few games remaining, this injury could have been catastrophic to their Super Bowl chances.
After the Bears game, Hurts was asked was how he felt after taking several big hits. “You took a lot of shots in the game, how do you feel?”a reporter asked Hurts.
- “I feel good, listening to my Anita Baker, and giving me some sweets on the plane ride home, watch the tape, learn from it and move forward,” Hurts said.
If Hurts were in discomfort during the interview, you couldn’t tell. He gave no hints about an injury.
Hurts has taken several big hits during the season and Eagles coaches have been asked about the game plan that calls for running Hurts too often. The stock answers have been Hurts knows how to protect himself.
That wasn’t the case Sunday.
Hurts has carried the ball 156 times this season, most among quarterbacks. That’s many, many times defenders can unload on him. Many are run-pass options when Hurts decides to either run, handoff or pass. Hurts has been universally praised for his decision-making, but maybe direct handoffs would be more prudent play.
The Eagles’ first two plays from scrimmage Sunday were designed runs for Hurts. Think about it: The 12-1 Eagles against the 3-10 Bears and the Birds’ offense comes out and tosses Hurts into the line and into jeopardy.
It’s questionable play-calling at best. Dumb play-calling at worst. Maybe, it turns into season-crushing play-calling — a season that saw the Eagles triumphantly distance themselves from the rest of the league.
Understood, this is who Hurts is and he’s at his most effective when he’s a threat to run or pass. And his running is such an important part of the Eagles’ offense.
But so often?
Also understood, it’s the Bears and their 27th-ranked run defense. The Eagles, with the second-ranked rushing offense, probably can win without their franchise quarterback crashing off-tackle looking for yards.
Eagles 1,000-yard running back Miles Sanders, coming off back-to-back games with career-highs in yards gained, carried the ball four times in the first half and 11 times total. Why not use Sanders? That’s the main function of his job, to carry the ball.
BEARS BEAT HIM UP
Hurts took a pounding in the Eagles’ 25-20 victory at Chicago.
He carried the ball 17 times against the Bears. For my money, that’s too much exposure for the one player the Eagles simply can’t lose to injury.
Bears defenders weren’t fooling around. They played hard, tackled hard and didn’t miss any opportunity to rock Hurts’ world.
The Bears weren’t playing dirty or taking cheap shots. They were playing NFL-standard football.
Hurts took several hellacious hits. On the play in which he likely was injured, Hurts was crushed by Bears defensive end Trevis Gipson after a 3-yard run.
Gipson drove Hurts into the ground, right shoulder first. Hurts stayed down momentarily before he was helped up by teammates. Hurts didn’t miss a play.
“It wasn’t the first time I’ve been slow, it won’t be the last,” Hurts said.
Hurts also was clobbered by linebacker Joe Thomas on a quarterback draw.
- “There’s some plays that happen and when he got hit by that linebacker — it was a great hit — sometimes when they’re square up like, those aren’t the ones that hurt you,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said after the game.
- “I know he took a couple of big hits but they were pretty clean shots. He got up and was good to go and hey, let’s go again.”
BYE ON THE LINE
With three games remaining in the regular season, the Eagles need one victory to clinch home-field for the playoffs.
A bye week is now even more important with Hurts hurting. An extra week of rest means Hurts won’t be exposed to defenses and he can recuperate closer to his own pace.
If the Eagles get the bye, the earliest their playoff game would be is Jan. 21 — 33 days away.
NEXT UP: MINSHEW
After the Dallas game, the Eagles finish with home games against the Saints and Giants. Gardner Minshew, who fancies himself an NFL starter, will start against the Cowboys if Hurts can’t go.
Minshew only has taken 25 garbage-time snaps this season (2.55 percent). Hurts has played 955 snaps, 97.45 percent. Minshew has competed one of two passes for 23 yards.
Minshew started twice for the Eagles last season, a win over the Jets and a standings-meaningless loss to the Cowboys. While at Jacksonville, Minshew went 7-13 in 20 starts.
I know we live in Nick Foles-landia here in Philly, but I can’t imagine the Eagles going far, or anywhere, in the playoffs with back-up Minshew starting.
Consider the likely playoff scenarios, even with an Eagles bye. Their first opponent could be the Cowboys or Tom Brady’s Bucs. Their next opponent could be the Niners or Vikings.
With a healthy Hurts, I think the Eagles have an excellent chance to get to the Super Bowl. Without Hurts, or an impaired Hurts, they might not win their playoff opener.
Interestingly, the first Eagles-Cowboys game featured a back-up quarterback — Cooper Rush filling in for Dak Prescott on Oct. 16.
On Saturday, the stakes are much higher. The playoffs are straight ahead. The Eagles have a chance to win the division and clinch a bye, and their quarterback likely be on the sideline in a trench coat.