EAGLES

What Washington game will tell us about Hurts' future

EAGLES

Is he the guy?

I’ve been answering that question about Jalen Hurts the same way since Week 1.

“I don’t know.”

And I don’t. But I might at 4 o’clock Sunday.

We all might. At the very least, we’ll have a much better idea.

Because when you’re trying to evaluate a young quarterback and figure out exactly what he’s all about, what better than a late-season must-win game with huge playoff implications against a division opponent?

There’s a lot to like about the way Hurts has played this year. The biggest thing you notice is how much he’s improved in the areas he had to get better.

He’s gone from 52 percent to 61 percent accuracy, reduced his fumbles and interceptions, improved his pocket awareness and become a smarter runner.

He’s made big plays late in games, rebounded from bad performances and gotten better at avoiding needless sacks.

Best of all, he’s won games. The Eagles are 8-7, and Hurts is 7-7 as a starter after going 1-3 last year, and he may not be the biggest reason the Eagles turned their season around, but he’s a big one. Other than the first Giants game, Hurts has been very good the second half of the season.

Only eight quarterbacks in their 20s have more wins this year than Hurts.

So there’s a lot to be encouraged by. A lot to be excited about. Nobody can question Hurts’ leadership, work ethic and any other intangible you can name.

 

Then there’s the flip side.

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He still misses guys he needs to hit. He still has to be more careful with the football when he’s on the move. He still underthrows too many deep balls. There are still moments where you marvel at his running ability but ask yourself if he can be a consistent enough thrower to excel consistently.

So if you want a conclusive “Yes he is,” or, “No he’s not,” it’s still too early.

But Sunday at FedEx Field is the kind of game that will answer a lot of these questions.

A win over the Washington Football Team combined with a Vikings loss to the Packers virtually assures the Eagles of reaching the playoffs, and that would make Hurts – at 23 years, 148 days – the youngest quarterback ever to take the Eagles to the postseason. Donovan McNabb did it at 24 in 2000, Nick Foles at 24 in 2013, Randall Cunningham at 25 in 1988.

There’s so much at stake Sunday. A win combined with a Vikings loss at Lambeau – where the Packers are 21-2 the last three years - give the Eagles a 99 percent chance at the postseason. A loss – even if the Vikings lose – drops that figure down to 45 percent.

So it’s not technically win and you’re in. But it’s awfully close.

These are the games quarterbacks are judged by. Not so much by what they do in September or October but how they respond in those few moments that define a season.

And Sunday will quite likely define this season. The Eagles could conceivably lose Sunday and then beat the Cowboys and get in, but let’s be realistic. The Eagles’ best path to the postseason goes through Landover. The Cowboys have won four straight, and their defense has allowed less than 11 points per game during that streak. They’ve already beaten the Eagles by 20. Not saying the Eagles can’t beat the Cowboys at home, but you don’t want to go into that game needing a win.

Winning Sunday changes the conversation around Hurts. It redefines him. If he answers the bell and finds a way to get the Eagles past Washington, he’s almost certainly a playoff quarterback.

Winning Sunday means Hurts responded in the biggest game yet of his brief NFL career. It means when the pressure was the greatest, he raised his level. It means when his team absolutely needed him to perform, he did.

 

What else do you want from your quarterback?

Is he “The Guy?”

I know one thing. NFL teams spend a ton of time, effort, money and energy desperately trying to find quarterbacks who can carry them to the postseason.

And if the Eagles win Sunday, that almost certainly means they already have one.