PHILADELPHIA — Jalen Hurts forced a throw into double coverage, one of his worst passes in years, and was picked off. A.J. Brown — he of the nearly 1,500 yards receiving a year ago — threw a tantrum on the sidelines when the ball didn’t come his way.
And yes, already, in the Eagles’ home opener, fans booed the NFC champions in the first half when a string of offensive plays went nowhere.
All that, and Philadelphia is 2-0.
The Eagles already knew they’d be tested as they try to return to the Super Bowl. Oh, it won’t be easy, but they’ve been sloppy and feisty, and those highlight-reel plays are behind last year’s pace.
But they’ll take it.
Hurts ran for a pair of 1-yard touchdowns and threw a 63-yard TD pass to DeVonta Smith, D’Andre Swift ran for 175 yards and a score, and the Eagles held off the turnover-prone Minnesota Vikings 34-28 in the NFL on Thursday night.
“We’re a work in progress,” Hurts said. “We strive for progress, not perfection. We want to grow and find our identity.”
Hurts, the MVP runner-up, shook off a sluggish passing performance in the first half and woke up the crowd when he connected with Smith for the scoring strike in the third quarter that made it 27-7.
“We Own UR SKOL Tonight,” one Eagles fan sign read after the TD.
— NFL (@NFL) September 15, 2023
It almost wasn’t enough.
Kirk Cousins hit Jordan Addison for a 62-yard touchdown that made it 27-14 in the fourth and found K.J. Osborn for a 10-yard TD that cut it to 27-21 and put the Eagles on edge.
But Swift scored on a 2-yard run for a 34-21 lead with 4:13 left and the Vikings didn’t have enough time to score twice.
“He showed a vision, an explosiveness,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said.
Minnesota (0-2), which had three first-half turnovers in a season-opening loss to Tampa Bay, lost three fumbles in the first half in Philly and four overall. In perhaps the most deflating moment for the Vikings, Justin Jefferson fumbled a 30-yard catch into the end zone and out of bounds for a touchback with Minnesota trailing 10-7 in the second quarter.
“No one’s more torn up about that one than Justin,” Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell said.
Cousins threw for 364 yards and four touchdowns, two to T.J. Hockenson. Jefferson had 11 catches for 159 yards.
“Very deflating,” Jefferson said.
Hurts finished 18 of 23 for 193 yards — mostly to Smith, who also hauled in a 54-yard catch. He finished with 131 yards on four receptions.
Brown, the Eagles’ other star receiver, seemed unhappy with Hurts on the sidelines and Sirianni had to step in and calm the situation. At that point, Brown had only four targets. He finished with four catches for 29 yards.
“The conversations we have on the field are going to be private,” Sirianni said. “Y’all don’t need to know what was going on out there.”
Brown’s complaints were no big deal to Hurts.
“Everybody wants to make plays. Everybody wants to contribute,” he said. “I have no worries about him. He’s a great teammate, a great friend.”
Jake Elliott kicked a pair of field goals for the Eagles, including a 61-yarder to conclude the first half after Jefferson’s fumble.
Maybe it’s the adjustment to new offensive coordinator Brian Johnson, maybe it was the short week, maybe it was Hurts and the bulk of the starters sitting out preseason games, but whatever the reason, the Eagles were sluggish early for the second straight week and lacked that big-play spark that made them a must-watch offense last season.
The Vikings blitzed and pressured Hurts early and he could not break plays open as easily as he routinely did last season.
With Hurts not his usual self again after a pedestrian effort in a win at New England, the Eagles turned to the run game. And run and run and run they did, 13 times on a 16-play drive that ended with Hurts using his signature rugby-style QB sneak to score on a 1-yard run for a 10-7 lead.
“We didn’t play our cleanest game,” Sirianni said. “I think the first week was a cleaner game for the defense and not as clean for the offense and vice versa with tonight. We are 2-0. A lot of teams would like to be sitting 2-0. When you are in this position, and guys don’t know that we aren’t playing to the best of our abilities, that’s when you can make a lot of growth.”
The Eagles might have to give a game ball to veteran Justin Evans.
Evans’ hit on punt returner Brandon Powell forced a fumble in the first quarter and the Eagles recovered. The Vikings’ first play after they picked off Hurts resulted in a turnover. Running back Alexander Mattison fumbled and Evans scooped the ball.
The Vikings have already lost six fumbles this season.
UH-OH & 2
Since 1990, 270 teams began a season 0-2. Only 31 of those advanced to the postseason (11.5%). Minnesota was a playoff team last year after a 13-4 regular season.
Vikings LT Olisaemeka Udoh left on a cart in the fourth quarter with a knee injury.
Eagles CB Avonte Maddox (shoulder) and WR Quez Watkins (hamstring) were injured in the game.
Vikings: Host the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday, Sept. 24.
Eagles: At Tampa Bay on Monday, Sept. 25, for the second of their five scheduled prime-time games.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.