PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Jalen Hurts walked into the Linc wearing a Michael Jordan “I’m Back” T-shirt from the former Chicago Bulls’ star’s first unretirement.
Yeah, Hurts is back — and now, so are the Eagles as a Super Bowl threat.
Hurts returned from a sprained right shoulder and threw for 229 yards under a conservative game plan, and the Philadelphia Eagles clinched the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a 22-16 win over the New York Giants on Sunday night.
“It’s really tough being out,’ Hurts said. ”I was pushing myself to be available and it wasn’t an easy thing.”
Hurts wasn’t asked to do much against New York’s B-team — with the Giants’ No. 6 seed already secured, they rested the bulk of their starting lineup — and he won without the explosive plays, the head-first rushes on fourth down, the scrambles that turn into 20-yard gains, the type of breakout plays that had defined his season. They weren’t needed.
His mere presence was the emotional boost the Eagles needed after the stumbles each of the last two weeks.
The Eagles rebounded from two straight losses behind backup QB Gardner Minshew to clinch the NFC East, the top spot in the conference and home field throughout the playoffs. The team also gets a bye, one more pivotal week of rest for Hurts.
Hurts received a roaring ovation and “MVP!” chants as he ran out of the tunnel during pregame introductions. The Eagles had clearly missed their QB, who had grown into an MVP front-runner until he was hurt on a hard tackle against Chicago.
Hurts was 20-of-35 passing in a game that had a preseason feel — the Eagles were only 1 of 5 in the red zone — and played the entire game. The Eagles also earned the No. 1 seed in the 2017 season and won the Super Bowl. They have 5-1 odds to win it this year, per FanDuel Sportsbook, trailing only Kansas City and Buffalo.
Hurts completed a 35-yard pass to A.J. Brown on the Eagles’ first play of the game and showed no ill-effects from the sprained right shoulder suffered three weeks ago. The Eagles played at half-speed against the Giants backups and refused to risk Hurts’ health — they did not have a called rushing play for him. The dynamic QB that ran for 747 yards and 13 touchdowns entering the game mostly stayed in the pocket, the Eagles clearly wary Hurts could take another hard hit on his shoulder.
“I know he was hurting,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said. “He was hurting bad.”
The Eagles didn’t get much offensively but really didn’t have to against a Giants (9-7-1) team that had already secured the No. 6 seed in the NFC and rested the bulk of their starters. Saquon Barkley and his 1,312 yards rushing took a seat. So did starting QB Daniel Jones.
The Giants, who play at Minnesota next Sunday, instead passed over No. 2 QB Tyrod Taylor and started practice squad regular Davis Webb.
Webb, in his first career start, rushed for a 14-yard touchdown in the fourth that made it 19-9. He tossed a 25-yard TD pass to Kenny Golladay late in the fourth that made it 22-16. He threw for 168 yards on 23-of-40 passing.
Hurts, whose 35 total touchdowns this season tied the franchise record set by Randall Cunningham in 1990, had a TD pass in the third quarter wiped out because of a penalty and then threw his sixth interception of the season on the next play.
This game for the Eagles was all about stabilizing themselves and reclaiming the swagger and confidence they had earlier this season as they steamrolled behind Hurts to a 13-1 record. Hurts likely wouldn’t have played had the Eagles beaten either Dallas or New Orleans in each of the last games and clinched the No. 1 seed. Instead, it was the Eagles playing with everything to lose while the nine-win Giants were secure in their spot.
“It’s the NFL, so the guys you have on the team, you have confidence in,” Giants rookie coach Brian Daboll said. “I thought our guys competed all the way to the end.”
Jake Elliott kicked field goals of 32, 52 and 39 yards in the first half. Boston Scott ran for an 8-yard touchdown — a whopping 10 of his 17 career TDs are against the Giants — and the Eagles took a 16-0 lead into halftime.
Elliott added field goals of 54 and 22 yards in the second half. Graham Gano kicked a 24-yarder in the third for the Giants.
Brown had four catches for 95 yards and finished with 1,496 for the team’s season record. Mike Quick held the yards receiving mark of 1,409 in 1983 in the 16-game season.
“It means a lot to leave my footprint on this organization,” Brown said. “There were a lot of great receivers before me. For me to do it the first year, it means the world. I told Mike thank you for everything he has done for the game.”
Quick is a radio analyst for the Eagles. “Just as he told me before the game, he said the first pass is going to come to me and I’m going to break your record,” he said.
DeVonta Smith set the Eagles’ season record for receptions with 95 (and 1,196 yards receiving). He had seven receptions against the Giants. Irving Fryar had 88 catches in 1996.
The 14 wins are also the most in a season for the Eagles.