On the second play from scrimmage, in front of 70,000 amateur physicians and psychiatrists, Jalen Hurts’ injured shoulder unleashed a 40-yard pass right on the money to DeVonta Smith.
With that one pass, an entire stadium could take a deep breath. Hurts’ throwing motion looked sound. He didn’t appear to grimace after the throw. He didn’t flinch. No one needed a stethoscope to show Eagles’ fans that their quarterback looked far better than the last time they saw him in Week 18.
For one play, at least, all was well in the Eagles’ world.
Hurts was just getting started. On the first drive, he completed all five of his passes including a 16-yard touchdown pass to Dallas Goedert, who made a nifty, one-handed catch before plowing into the end zone. Hurts also ran twice on the first drive — maybe a signal he was back to his old ways.
If the Giants were counting on Hurts’ injured right shoulder to help them in Saturday night’s divisional playoff game, they badly miscalculated. Hurts played with the flash and grit he showed throughout what likely would have been an MVP season had he not gotten injured.
When it was over, the Eagles moved to the NFC title game with a 38-7 victory over the not-ready-for-prime-time Giants. The Eagles will play the winner of Sunday’s Dallas-San Francisco game for the right to go to the Super Bowl.
- “It seemed like the old Jalen to me, I ain’t gonna lie,” said running back Miles Sanders, who gained 90 of the Eagles’ 268 yards on the ground.
- “I’m just proud of him. He asked everybody for [their] best and we’re going to do that just for him. Just because he gives us his best.”
By the end of the first quarter, it looked like an Eagles’ 2022 greatest hits package. Hurts was on fire. Haason Reddick had sacks on back-to-back plays. James Bradberry jumped a route and intercepted Daniel Jones — only his sixth interception of the season.
This was the formula the Eagles used for success all season — Hurts’ brilliance, a strong ground game, fierce pass rush and ball-hawking secondary. The Eagles led, 14-0.
The obligatory Boston Scott touchdown came with 4:52 left in the first half and put the Eagles ahead 21-0. The diminutive running back, inexplicably, has 11 of his 17 career touchdowns against the Giants. It’s the highest percentage of touchdowns against one opponent in NFL history. He has played nine games against the Giants and has a touchdown in each one.
Weird. Or amazing. Or something.
THE LEAD GROWS
The 21-0 lead became 28-0 when Hurts scored on a quarterback draw from five yards out. If Hurts was hurting, you couldn’t tell from how he was playing.
Hurts’ numbers were impressive enough — 16-of-24 for 154 yards and two touchdowns. The very threat of him running put the Giants defenders on skates. Eagles receivers were often open and Hurts delivered the ball for them.
The stats were surprising when you consider Hurts’ injury, how unsettled he played in Week 18 and that he has only played one game in five weeks.
- “Jalen always is going to help the running back because what he can do and the threat that he poses on the backside,” coach Nick Sirianni said.
- “Even if he’s not carrying it, even if he’s not having runs to him, he’s still going to affect the game. And that’s what he did. He affected the game because he commanded attention.”
WAS HURTS 100 PERCENT?
There was an ominous report before kickoff. Fox Sports’ Pam Oliver reported that Hurts told her that he “wasn’t anywhere near 100 percent.”
Hurts might not have been 100 percent, but he was more than good enough.
From all indications, this game was expected to be tight. Two old division rivals, a hot Giants team, an Eagles team with damaged goods at quarterback.
The external pressure was on the Giants. The juiced-up Linc crowd was ready to will their team to victory. Eagles fans can provide of the best home-field advantages in the NFL. And the Giants were flush with house money, going from a four-win season last year to winning nine games and making the playoffs.
But the internal pressure was on the Eagles. Fourteen wins are terrific — a franchise record — but that meant nothing now. For the Eagles’ season to be considered a success, they couldn’t lose in the divisional round.
OFFENSIVE LINE PAVES THE WAY
The Eagles’ offensive line was powerful, opening holes for running backs and keeping defenders safely away from Hurts. Lane Johnson returned after missing two games with a torn adductor. Johnson wasn’t 100 percent but he was 100 percent effective.
Sanders gained 90 yards on 17 carries. He had plenty of help — 112 yards for Kenny Gainwell on 12 carries and 32 yards for Scott.
- “O-line, first and foremost,” Sanders said about the Eagles’ running success.
The offense was terrific and the defense equally so, holding the Giants to seven points a week after New York scored 31 against the Vikings in the wild card game.
- “The way we came out tonight … I’m proud of this team, I’m proud of the preparation that we put in to get where we are,” Hurts said.
- “I think we came out hungry.”