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Is Carson Wentz why Eagles coach curbed his enthusiasm over Jalen Hurts' performance?

Martin Frank
Delaware News Journal

So here is the tightrope that Eagles coach Doug Pederson is walking right now:

He's no doubt euphoric that rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts led the Eagles to a 24-21 win on Sunday, confounding the Saints with his throwing and his running, and ending an embarrassing four-game losing streak.

But Pederson also knows that his fate is tied to Carson Wentz, the quarterback he benched in favor of Hurts, the Eagles' second-round draft pick. Wentz is the Eagles' $128-million franchise quarterback whom the Eagles can't release or trade next season because that salary is so cumbersome.

Yet Pederson wouldn't even go so far as to say after the game that Hurts will start this Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, saying he wanted to "enjoy the win" with his family before making a decision.

On Monday, Pederson said Hurts will start this Sunday, but was still careful about praising Hurts.

"After looking at the film again (Monday), Jalen played well," Pederson said. "He was a big part of the success we had on offense and obviously helping us win that football game."

Eagles' Jalen Hurts (2) rushes against the Saints Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020 in Philadelphia. The Eagles won 24-21.

But he quickly tempered that with: "There were lot of other great individual performances on both sides of the ball."

Yet Pederson did not commit to Hurts for the final three games, even though it was clear that Hurts did pretty much everything that Wentz has not done this season.

Hurts found open receivers. He escaped the pocket, buying himself more time, and was able to throw on the run.

He also threw the ball away on more than a few occasions instead of taking a sack. In fact, Hurts wasn't sacked at all. Wentz had been sacked an NFL-high 50 times in 11 games.

Pederson said that was both a function of Hurts and the offensive line. 

"Jalen, being able to step up in the pocket, and obviously elude the rush a couple of times and extend plays with his legs," Pederson said. "So that’s all part of pass protection, and the guys did a good job."

RUNNING TO WIN:Jalen Hurts enables Eagles to run over the Saints as Carson Wentz watches from sidelines

SANDERS SHINES:Miles Sanders breaks out another long run in Eagles win

Hurts completed 17 of 30 passes for 167 yards, without an interception. It wasn't great, but it was efficient. But Hurts became the first Eagles quarterback to rush for more than 100 yards (he had 106) in a game since Michael Vick ran for 130 yards against the Giants 10 years ago.

Yet Pederson said this after the game: "I thought overall, there were some good things (from Hurts), and really, kind of gave us a spark as a team that I was looking for, and I think we were looking for as a team. But you know, this win is not about one guy. This win is about this team and how resilient this team is."

Pederson sounded as excited as someone getting a root canal.

Hurts led an offense that had been rudderless for most of the season. Did you see Miles Sanders break off an 82-yard touchdown run late in the first half on a read-option, a play that worked because the Saints had to respect both Hurts and Sanders?

Then after the game, Sanders called Hurts "a natural leader."

Added wide receiver Jalen Reagor: "You guys saw. (Hurts) looked good. He’s a fearless guy, just like myself. The guy’s a winner. He knows how to play. I’m proud for him and I’m happy to see how he goes."

After the game, Pederson was asked if he wished he had gone to Hurts sooner. After all, he didn't bench Wentz until the second half of the 12th game, last Sunday against Green Bay, even though Wentz statistically has been one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL this season.

"It took everybody in uniform to win this game, not just one guy," Pederson said. "And I'm going to repeat myself again that it takes a village to get this stuff done, and Jalen was a part of it, yes. But it took a team effort to win, honestly."

Sure, the defense forced two turnovers – its first interception since Oct. 22, and a crucial strip-sack by Josh Sweat on Saints quarterback Taysom Hill in the fourth quarter with the Saints in Eagles' territory trailing by just a field goal.

There was also a key special teams play when Jalen Mills recovered an onside kick with 1:24 to go to preserve the victory.

But the Eagles had their first double-digit lead in the first half for the first time since the season opener because of Hurts.

They rushed for 246 yards against the top-ranked defense in the NFL because of Hurts. The Saints had allowed an average of just 76.1 rushing yards coming into the game.

Yet Pederson couldn't lavish praise on Hurts because he also has to keep Wentz's feelings in mind. 

To Wentz's credit, Hurts said Wentz was engaged on the sidelines, giving advice, pointing things out that he noticed from the Saints defense. 

"Carson had a few tips for me," Hurts said. "A few little things pointing out here and there – certain looks, seeing the space of the defense ... We all had each other’s back. That’s the beauty in all of this. We had each other’s back going out there against a really good football team."

Pederson desperately needs that attitude from Wentz to continue. After all, if Pederson is returning as coach next season, then it could be his last chance to make Wentz right again.

So he treaded carefully when asked if he's taking Wentz's feelings into account with regards to praising Hurts. He said he's taking the whole team into account.

But Pederson did allow himself this small bit of praise for Hurts, when told that Sanders called Hurts a natural leader:

"Yeah, I would say that's pretty accurate." 

Contact Martin Frank at mfrank@delawareonline.com. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.