PHILADELPHIA – Imagine this: Jalen Hurts back at quarterback for the Eagles only six days after his right shoulder was mashed into Bermuda sod on a blustery afternoon in Chicago.
The scenario ostensibly has gone from long shot once it was revealed that Hurts had sprained his throwing shoulder — the arm that helped guide Philadelphia to the best record in the NFL and cemented him as a bona fide MVP contender — to plausible on Saturday at Dallas.
“I’m feeling fine, feeling fine,” Hurts said Tuesday. “Definitely a chance.”
What a relief for the Eagles.
What a scare for the rest of the playoff field.
Even if Hurts doesn’t play Saturday when the 13-1 Eagles can clinch the NFC East and the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a win, the fact his availability is on the table means he avoided the worst-case scenario of a significant injury that could have cost him significant time.
Eagles coach Nick Sirianni refused to rule out his franchise QB.
“I do not put it past Jalen Hurts, I don’t put anything past Jalen Hurts as far as his physical and mental toughness,” Sirianni said Tuesday. “There’s a chance he can play this week.”
That lessens the need for a reboot of Minshew Mania in Philly.
The Eagles could take a safe rout and go with backup QB Gardner Minshew, a former starter in Jacksonville who has played well in spot duty and garbage time in two seasons with Philly. The common thought was let Hurts heal up, rest and lay the groundwork for the playoffs.
Plus, the Eagles have been down this path before, in December 2017 when MVP front-runner Carson Wentz was lost to injury and yielded the starting spot to Nick Foles.
Foles went out and won the Eagles the franchise’s first Super Bowl, when he asked his coach about a trick play, “You want Philly Philly?”
So, you want repeat repeat?
Not this year. Hurts is still the man.
“We will play him when he’s ready to play,” Sirianni said. “If that’s this week, it’s this week. If it’s next week, it’s next week. When Jalen’s ready to play, he’s ready to play. All aspects of it.”
The 24-year-old in his second season as a starter has absorbed a variety of hard licks that never knocked him out of a game. Not even against the Bears. Hurts said he grasped he was injured the moment he was tackled by defensive tackle Travis Gipson. He stayed in the game and went 7-of-10 passing for 110 yards — and hit wide receiver A.J. Brown for a 68-yard reception.
“I’m very aware of my body,” Hurts said. “I’ve always been that way. I try and be mindful of those things. I’m pretty good at kind of overcoming those kind of different things.”
Hurts has thrown 22 touchdowns and has 3,472 yards passing, and he has rushed for 747 yards and 13 touchdowns. His 35 total touchdowns this season tied the franchise record set by Randall Cunningham in 1990.
“I’m not one to really talk about myself,” Hurts said. “Obviously, being the quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles, you can’t run from it.”
After Dallas, the Eagles close the season with home games against New Orleans and the New York Giants. Should they earn the No. 1 seed in the conference, the Eagles could play up to two home games at Lincoln Financial Field in the playoffs.
Hurts wouldn't mind a repeat of an October win at the Linc when he threw for 155 yards and two touchdowns in a 26-17 victory over the Cowboys.
“I think the best thing for me is being ready to play,” Hurts said.
Hurts’ odds might shoot back up should he not miss a snap. Hurts continued to air out against the Bears after the injury and did not seem to be in any pain when he talked to the media after the game, all promising signs for this week.
“I don’t want to talk about myself,” Hurts said. “It took a lot of grit, it took some courage, it took the people around me. We have a ton of guys that have to play through things. We have a ton of guys that have to overcome adversities and obstacles in front of them. I think that was something that we did together.”
The Eagles got more good news Tuesday when star tight end Dallas Goedert was activated off the injured list after he missed five games with a shoulder injury. Goedert, who has 43 receptions for 544 yards and three touchdowns, was hurt in Philadelphia’s only loss of the season, in November against Washington.
Hurts suffered an ankle injury and missed a game last season against the New York Jets. Minshew was 20 of 25 for 242 yards and two touchdowns in a 33-18 victory on the road and later asked Sirianni what he needed to do to become the starter.
The answer for Saturday might be the same now for the looming free-agent QB as it was a year ago: No one takes Hurts’ spot.
“It’s not the first time I’ve had things I’ve had to overcome,” Hurts said. “Nothing changes about this other than the publicity of it. The mentality of this team, it’s truly about just being ready go into Saturday. It’s going to take everybody like it does every week.”
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL