A favorite son of Houston returned Thursday and made history for Philadelphia.
Ahead of this season and the last, there were questions as to whether Jalen Hurts would be the Philadelphia Eagles’ long-term starter at quarterback. By evening’s end, Hurts had quarterbacked the Eagles to the greatest start in the franchise’s 90-year history.
In a victorious homecoming for the Houston native, Hurts threw two touchdowns to help the Eagles to a 29-17 win over the Houston Texans and the franchise’s first 8-0 start. The 24-year-old downplayed the historic note, though, as he believes there is much yet to achieve and plenty to improve upon.
“I know it’s special for the city of Philadelphia,” Hurts, who was 21 of 27 for 243 yards, told reporters after the game. “I mean, I’ve been 8-0 before and lost the national championship. Just take it day by day. Take it day by day. We haven’t accomplished anything yet. It’s a day-by-day thing of us controlling things we can, playing to our standard and trying to grow every day. I think that’s truly what it’s about.”
Along with 8-0 on Thursday came 11-0, as in the Eagles are likewise undefeated in Hurts’ last 11 regular-season starts. Hurts, who’s thrown eight touchdowns over his last three games with multiple TD tosses in each of them, has quickly ascended from a question mark as a starter in Nick Sirianni’s offense to the unquestioned leader of one of the NFL’s elite teams. In the eyes of the head coach who was on the wrong end of Hurts’ talents Thursday, the young signal-caller has raised his play more than anyone in the game.
“I think he’s improved more, maybe more than every player in the NFL,” Texans head coach Lovie Smith said Thursday. “Outstanding player.”
The compliment drew a grin from Hurts when it passed on to him.
“I respect his opinion. I work to improve every offseason,” Hurts said. “I work to improve every offseason and the work shows in due time.”
Perhaps most impressive on Thursday night for Hurts was that there were some unexpected trials and travails for the Eagles and himself against a struggling Houston squad (1-6-1), but they were shaken off en route to a comfortable win.
Hurts was hardly at his best in the early going. He offered up some wayward passes and fumbled away his team’s second possession. But as the Eagles began to pull away as many expected they would from the start, it was Hurts who led the charge.
Tied at 14 in the third quarter, Hurts hit a stunningly wide-open A.J. Brown for a go-ahead 17-yard touchdown.
When the Texans answered with a field goal to cut the deficit to 21-17, Hurts and Co. mounted their second straight TD drive, which culminated with a 4-yard scoring throw to Dallas Goedert. Though 11 minutes and change remained in the game following Goedert’s TD, the score all but wrapped up Hurts’ homecoming win.
“Anytime I get to come back to the city of Houston it’s special,” Hurts said. “This is the first time I ever played back home at the professional level, collegiate level. I never got that opportunity at the collegiate level. So, to come back to play in a place where I’ve built a lot of memories with my mom and dad coming to watch ball at this same stadium [was special]. Of all things it’s a great team win. There’s rarity in me reflecting on things and not having emotion towards it, but I’m proud that my family got to see that today. I’m proud my dad got to see that, and I know that’s special to him, because my family knows the memories we’ve had with the Houston Texans. Just being around and involved in the camps and Andre Johnson and him giving me his cleats as a kid. Those are the memories that I truly value to come home and get a win in this city it’s special.”
As NRG Stadium was flooded with Philly fans along with Hurts’ family members, the QB was even keel, remaining his usual poised self by his teammates’ accord.
“You can’t read that guy,” Eagles running back Miles Sanders said. “He’s cool, steady, calm and collective, that’s how he always is.”
Sirianni went so far as to talk to Hurts about not getting caught up in the pomp and circumstance of the moment, even though he knew it was unlikely to be necessary.
“The one thing I said to him before the game is that don’t let this be a distraction,” the second-year head coach said. “You’re the last person I worry about this, but don’t let this be a distraction to you. He had the same look on his face as if it didn’t matter. That’s just who he is and that’s how he goes about his business.
“It was nice that I finally got to meet his family. Nice people. It was really nice to meet them and put a face to the conversations Jalen and I have, he speaks so highly of his family. I know that felt good for him [getting the win] and I know that’s something he can enjoy now. But he didn’t approach that game any differently than he approached the Pittsburgh game, the Cowboys game. That’s why he’s a true professional.”
Hurts has improved in each of his three NFL seasons and the Eagles have as well over the last two. It began last year when they finished the regular season at 9-8 and sneaked into the playoffs. And now they’ve long been the last undefeated team standing and are off to a franchise-best start. But despite all the hoopla of being the homecoming king and leading the charge into history, Hurts’ fondest memory from Thursday night will be one that exemplifies the work ethic which leads to the dynamic results on the field.
“Being able to get a win,” Hurts said when asked what moment would be his biggest memory. “There’s a lot to be grateful about. There’s a lot to reflect on and look at the things that we did well. There’s also a lot of things that we can improve on. I’m not gonna make excuses about anything or the short week. We have a standard of play, we want to play to that at all times. It’s a learning experience for us. It’s a formative experience, that’ll only build us up. I truly think the only direction is to rise. Personally, playing in the city of Houston, being the first time playing back home, that’s a special moment for me personally. I think the job is still not done.”
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