Run, run and run some more. Forrest Gump didn’t run this much.
Running the football was the Eagles’ simple, effective and winning formula Sunday night.
In a league fascinated with the forward pass, the Eagles took the road less traveled against the Packers. They ran 49 times for an astounding 363 yards in a physical, 40-33 victory over visiting Green Bay. The Eagles’ franchise record for yards in a game is 376 yards, set in 1948.
Quarterback Jalen Hurts ran 17 times for a career-high 157 yards. Miles Sanders gained a career-high 143 yards on 21 carries.
- “That was a special game running,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said. “This is an unbelievable offensive line.”
The victory moved the Eagles to 10-1 and dropped the Packers to 4-8. The teams and their quarterbacks were two ships passing in the night. One team is barreling toward the playoffs; the other is facing a long offseason.
The symbolism was unavoidable, the results all too real.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who was playing with a broken thumb, suffered an oblique injury on the first series of the third quarter — likely after getting crunched on a sack. Rodgers was in obvious pain — he grimaced when he made the shortest of passes, groaned when he simply handed off the ball.
The proud warrior of a proud franchise valiantly tried to will his team to victory despite the piercing pain of his injury. He led the Packers on a 49-yard drive that resulted in a field goal that cut the Eagles’ lead to 34-23.
But Rodgers, who turns 39 on Friday, was done for the night.
HURTS: IN COMMAND
Rodgers’ counterpart at quarterback was Hurts, young and strong, looking invincible and in command of his game and his team.
Hurts is an MVP candidate and he earned some votes and respect Sunday night. His rushing total was the fifth-best ever by a quarterback. He continues to be a running and passing threat for which defenses have little response.
- “You just have to go out there and respond to what they’re giving you,” Hurts said. “You have to see what they’re giving you and react accordingly.
- “I felt like we were doing that the majority of the time today.”
The Eagles own the NFL’s best record while Green Bay will need a miracle to make the playoffs — one season after going 13-4 to earn the NFC’s only bye.
The Eagles came into the game ranked sixth in the NFL in rushing, averaging 142 yards per game. Hurts and Sanders each exceeded that themselves.
The first half was full of highlights, injuries, spectacular plays and huge hits that must have held NBC’s national television audience spellbound.
After all that, Hurts trotted onto the field with 2:16 to play in the first half, the game tied 20-20. There was enough time for the Eagles to make a statement, to restore order to the disorderly.
He led the Eagles on a nine-play, 71-yard drive, hitting Quez Watkins with a 30-yard, back-shoulder touchdown pass with 13 seconds to play. Hurts’ pass was so precise — the ball was thrown in the only place Watkins could have caught it — that even Rodgers would be impressed.
Sanders continued his career season. He scored two touchdowns — giving him a career-high eight for the season — and hit holes with authority. He broke tackles on nearly every run, showing speed and durability.
- “That O-line, I just have to give credit to the O-line,”Sanders said. “They love running the ball. With them loving running the ball, it makes me more confident.
- “We can do this day in, day out. Them guys up front, they are something special …
- “Whatever’s working, that’s what we’re going to stick to. We mix it up a little bit, but when the run game’s working, we’re not shying away from the run game. We’ve been dominant every time we stick to the run game.”
TRYING TO STOP HURTS
The Eagles’ very first series showed their versatility and the problems they present for defenses. Facing a third-and-10, Hurts took off on a 24-yard run for a first down.
On the same drive, he gained 28 yards on a third-and-six, the ball winding up on the Packers’ 6. Kenny Gainwell scored the first touchdown two plays later on a four-yard run.
- “It’s good to have a quarterback like him when you just drop back and if you don’t see nothing … you can just take off and not even get 10, but get 20 yards a gain,” Sanders said about Hurts.
- “That’s going to kill a defense and it’s going to make them change their play-calling with coverages … it’s going to make them discombobulated trying to contain all the talent that we have on this offense.”
The Eagles ran 77 plays while the Packers only ran 46. On an uncommonly warm late-November night, the Eagles’ running game — and massive offensive line — took its toll.
HURTS’ ‘SPECIAL GAME’
With a future first-ballot Hall of Famer in the house, Hurts stepped up. “He had a special game tonight,” Sirianni said about his 24-year-old quarterback.
Hurts was asked why he was able to run for so many yards. He said he didn’t know how to answer that question.
“I ran and they couldn’t get me,” Hurts said.