PHILADELPHIA — For one day at least, the meritocracy won.
Jalen Hurts is the new starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Whether that lasts for a half against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, the rest of the 2020 season or the next decade, the second-round pick, who was the Heisman Trophy runner-up to Joe Burrow last season at Oklahoma, now has been afforded an opportunity by Carson Wentz's inexplicably poor play this season.
Less than 18 months after Jeffrey Lurie backed up the Brink's truck to Wentz's South Jersey home, head coach Doug Pederson pulled the plug on the player who was expected to be the face of the franchise for the foreseeable future.
“I have come to a decision and I am going to go with Jalen Hurts this week against New Orleans,” Pederson told the Eagles' website, a very 2020 way to announce the benching of the QB1, who was likely on his way to an NFL MVP award before tearing his ACL and LCL in Dec. of 2017 against the Los Angeles Rams. “I looked at the whole thing and decided that for this week to look for that spark again to try to get the team over the hump.”
Pederson spun himself as a lone wolf when it came to this decision on Monday eager to distance himself from an owner and general manager who have often made the coach seem somewhat neutered when it comes to personnel decisions and even the makeup of his own coaching staff.
Perhaps fighting for his own job, this gives Pederson a month to prove he didn't go from Super Bowl-winning play-caller to a guy who can't get out of his own way inside of 36 months.
Hurts will have the same deficiencies at his disposal that Wentz was working with, notably, the crippled offensive line that has been playing a game of musical chairs this entire season and the dearth of playmakers on the outside that Wentz seemed to shut out over the past few games after the opposition found out who Travis Fulgham was.
Hurts, on the other hand, brings an off-schedule ability to extend plays that Wentz once had before the injuries and confidence issues started to overwhelm the veteran.
The one common denominator in virtually all of the Hurts scouting reports was his natural leadership skills, something Wentz has lacked at least according to some teammates over the years.
The rookie has also shown perseverance after once being passed over by Tua Tagoviola at Alabama. In the 2018 SEC Championship Game, Hurts returned to the lineup to replace an injured Tagovailoa and led the Crimson Tide to a comeback win over Georgia. He then transferred to Oklahoma where his NFL ascent sped up.
Hurts’ leadership qualities showed up again during the 26 snaps he got in the Eagles’ 30-16 loss to Green Bay on Sunday. He took a moribund team and helped put them back in the game with a 32-yeard touchdown pass to Greg Ward on a 4th-and-18 play.
At one point the Eagles had the football with the opportunity to tie the game with another TD drive.
It didn't work out, of course, but the limited spark might as well have looked like Aaron Rodgers himself when compared to Wentz's league-leading 15 interceptions and 19 total turnovers as well as the 50 sacks the former No. 2 overall pick has endured.
“Whether it be the different adversities I experienced in college or coming here to Philadelphia, it’s a test of faith and patience," Hurts said after getting his first extensive action against the Packers. "I’m trying to do what I can do for this team. I think that’s as simple as that. Working hard every day, putting my best foot forward and taking somebody with me, trying to lead. Just get this thing in the right direction.”
The business part of this says that the Eagles aren't likely to move on from Wentz until 2022 at the earliest, something Pederson hinted at.
“Carson’s been a big part of the success we’ve had,” Pederson said. “He was on that (2017 Super Bowl) championship team that got us to that level. Even in 2018 and 2019 he led the team and got us into the postseason. I know we can get back to that level. That’s why I have so much confidence in him.”
Pederson is never one to point fingers but he is eager to prove the 2020 Eagles' struggles aren't due to his own deficiencies and Hurts is the only path the coach can use to prove that thesis.
“I always tell myself it’s not something you’re stuck in, it’s something you’re going through,” Hurts said of adversity.
For a coach and a fan base searching for hope during a 3-8-1 nightmare that's music to their ears.
John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John every Tuesday and Thursday on "The Middle" with Eytan Shander, Harry Mayes, and Barrett Brooks on SportsMap Radio and PhillyVoice.com. He’s also the host of Extending the Play on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
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