It was desperation time.
The Eagles’ 17-point halftime lead had dwindled to two, Adoree’ Jackson’s 76-yard pick-6 a moment earlier had given the Giants a ton of momentum, the Eagles were backed up on their own 26-yard-line and they faced a 3rd-and-20 a minute into the fourth quarter.
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This is the type of spot where a lot of play callers don’t even try to get a first down because too many bad things can happen – a sack, a fumble, an interception.
So it seemed like we’d see D’Andre Swift run up the middle for four yards, Braden Mann come out to punt and the Giants get the ball back somewhere around their own 30-yard-line down two, and you’d just hope the defense could get a stop.
“There aren’t a lot of plays you can draw up on third and 20,” Nick Sirianni said after the Eagles hung on to beat the Giants 33-25 Monday night.
In fact, the Eagles had never converted a third down of 20 yards or more since Sirianni became head coach, going 0-for-11.
The last 3rd-and-20 (or longer) the Eagles converted was in late 2020, at the end of Doug Pederson's tenure, when Jalen Hurts threw a 32-yard touchdown to — who else? — Quez Watkins in a loss to the Cards in Glendale
Going back to 1994 – the first year Stathead tracked conversions by down and distance – the Eagles have converted 7 percent of their plays on third down and 20 or more. League-wide, it’s a 5 percent play this year.
You get the idea.
But this is Jalen Hurts we’re talking about and he does things normal human beings don’t even try to do.
So with so much at stake and a three-possession lead down to two points, Hurts went to work.
He dropped back all the way to the 15, didn’t see an open receiver, stepped up in the pocket while eluding a couple Giants pass rushers as he surveyed the field. Then, on the run, he fired toward A.J. Brown deep down the right sideline.
Hurts got enough on the throw to get the ball to Brown while putting it inches out of reach of a leaping Isaiah Simmons.
It was one of his best throws this year.
Brown caught the ball at the Giant’ 46-yard-line – enough already for a first down – and then muscled his way through Jason Pinnock, Cordale Flott and Simmons for another six yards.
“I mean, what an unbelievable play by Jalen and A.J.,” Sirianni said. “And then being able to ride this momentum … and get down there and finish the drive?
“It was just an unbelievable individual effort by Jalen, A.J., the offensive line giving Jalen enough time to escape and step up in the pocket and fire the ball to A.J.”
The Eagles haven’t hit a whole bunch of long pass plays lately.
Coming into Monday night, Hurts had completed only five passes of 30 yards or more in the Eagles’ last six games.
But when the Eagles needed one the most, he and Brown responded.
The Eagles’ five previous drives had gone punt / field goal / fumble / punt / pick-6. But after the 3rd-and-20 conversion and then a 22-yard run by Kenny Gainwell on the next snap — the Eagles’ two-longest plays of the second half — they drove down the field and scored a touchdown they had to have.
“They scored 15 points off two turnovers (and) we talked about that a lot in training camp,” Sirianni said. “‘Hey, we're in a rut. Someone has to pull us out. We have to do a good job as coaches putting you all in position to make plays, and then someone has got to make a play and pull us out,’ and Jalen and A.J. did just that in that particular case.”
It was vintage Hurts and the sort of improbably creative play we haven’t seen enough from over the last few weeks from the 25-year-old quarterback.
“I just held up, held up enough and looped through the pocket, and was able to get it open through the defender,” Hurts said. “A.J. made a great play, staying alive, not letting the situation get the best of us and finding a way to overcome that circumstance.”