CHARLOTTE – The test this week for Jalen Hurts was to string together back-to-back solid games.
He failed, but maybe in the process, something else was learned about the Eagles’ much-maligned starting quarterback.
His grit, perseverance, and character were on display for all to see against the Carolina Panthers, owners of the third-best defense in the league coming into Sunday’s game at Bank of America Stadium.
“He’s such an old soul,” said right tackle Jordan Mailata. “He has an old head on his young shoulders, and it shows very late in games. He’s still there talking us up. The grit, the perseverance, those are the qualities he himself possesses.
“He’s all bite, no bark. He talks it and he walks it. So, that’s very encouraging to see from your QB, and you just want to make sure you have his back.”
Hurts played far from his best game. Maybe his worst.
Yet, thanks to the defense and special teams, Hurts was able to rise to the moment when he had to, taking the Eagles into the end zone after T. J. Edwards’ blocked punt with 3:53 to play in the game set the offense up at the 27 trailing 18-13.
Already, the Eagles had squandered good field position with bad offensive play, one when Darius Slay’s pick gave them possession at the 10. They could only get a field goal from it.
Another was when Jalen Reagor’s 22-yard punt return put them in Carolina territory. A fumble from DeVonta Smith at the Panthers' 33 doomed that.
So, what sort of confidence was there that this time would be different?
Why couldn’t Shaun Bradley just have scooped up that block and ran it in? It looked like he could have.
It came down to Hurts.
He hit Dallas Goedert for 20 yards to the 6. A play later, he took off to left on a run-pass option for a 6-yard score. Hurts then found Smith in the back of the end zone for the two-point conversion.
The play was difficult with a bad snap from Jason Kelce and some early pressure that forced Hurts to his right.
In the immediate hours following a win like this, there’s no telling how much it can help a team grow and develop, to find an identity with a young coaching staff and a 23-yard-old quarterback.
But what it did show, in addition to another side of Hurts, was that this team supports one another, and that, in the long run is a positive.
An example was when Mailata said that Hurts told him “next play” after Haason Reddick blew by him twice on back-to-back plays for sacks.
When Hurts misfired on a fourth-down throw to Zach Ertz, Mailata told his quarterback, “next play.”
“That made me smile,” said Hurts. “It made me smile because it’s something I preach. I got a taste of my own medicine in that moment, and it felt good. Next play mentality, Dawg Mentality, and that was a situation where I had to have some Dawg Mentality, show some perseverance and overcome. I’m just so happy we came together and found a way to win as a football team.”
Hurts led the offense, and led is a loosely-used word here, to 88 yards of offense in the first half. There didn’t seem to be much sign of the quarterback being able to muster any kind of magic to lead a comeback from 15-6 down at halftime.
Except the defense made sure that if any magic was going to be found under blue skies overhead, the offense would be in shouting distance of coming back.
The comeback began with a 53-yard Hurts hookup to Quez Watkins. That led to the first of the two rushing touchdowns the quarterback had, this one a one-yard sneak with eight seconds left in the third quarter to cut the deficit to 15-13.
“Sometimes all you need is a big play,” said head coach Nick Sirianni. “…It was so much a credit to the defense for keeping it close, and then to hit that play, almost breathe new life into the offense … It felt different after that.
“That was a big play in the game. Great job by Jalen finding it. I thought Jalen overthrew him. It was great to see Quez put the burners on and go and track that ball.”
Last week, Hurts threw for a career-high 387 yards.
This week, he had 198 with 22 completions in 37 attempts.
Last week, Hurts led the Eagles to 30 first down, but to just 15 this week.
And last week the Eagles had 461 total yards to just 273 this week
No, he did not play well, but the moment called for him to rise up, he did, bringing to mind a conference call with Matt Rhule earlier in the week about how Hurts is a player capable of putting a team in his back and carrying them.
Rhule would know. Hurts beat his Baylor teams twice in 2019, and Sunday’s win now makes Hurts 3-0 against the Panthers coach.
Hurts had help, for sure, from the defense and special teams, but when the Eagles needed a touchdown after the block, he obliged.
“I think we executed enough to win the game,” said Hurts. “Often you come back after a game, maybe you left some stuff out there on the field and you say we didn’t play well enough. Well, we didn’t play to our standards today, offensively, but it was enough.”
Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles or www.eaglemaven.com and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.