As we reported here earlier, the Eagles would approach preseason game 2 as a glorified final tryout for reserves, and that no “trade secrets” of the new coaching staff would be revealed.
I think we got it right. As it turned out, most of the starters for the Birds either got the night off or made super-brief appearances, having apparently pleased the coaches in the joint practice matchups with the Patriots earlier in the week. Very basic game plans on offense and defense were the rule.
What EYE didn’t foresee was the scratching of Jalen Hurts as the expected starting QB. Hurts was active in warmups but was pulled off the field just prior to kickoff. All kinds of speculation for his absence swirled around the Linc, including the traditional reflex question—did he just get traded?
Turns out Hurts was suffering some stomach discomfort…the decision was made to keep Hurts out of the game. Backup quarterback Joe Flacco found out that he would start the game after warm-ups were over. Coach Nick Sirianni said that Hurts was still feeling pressure in his abdomen when he returned to the locker room. Hurts was taken to a nearby hospital as a precaution. Hurts was evaluated and determined to have a non-COVID illness. Hurts was eventually discharged from the hospital.
Well, at least that’s the “official” explanation…
With Flacco at the helm, the Eagles’ starting offense (for the night), which was also missing center Jason Kelce, right guard Brandon Brooks and right tackle Lane Johnson, got off to an awful start.
On the third play of the game, backup center Nate Herbig launched a snap over the head of the 6-foot-6 quarterback, and the Patriots recovered the ball in scoring territory. The fumble recovery led to a quick Patriots score, as running back Damien Harris ran into the end zone for a touchdown after just two plays.
From there, the Eagles’ offense just couldn’t get going. With several starters, on both sides of the ball, taking the night off, it was a forgettable preseason outing for the home crowd.
With most of the starting offensive line sidelined against the Patriots’ first-team defense, Flacco didn’t stand a chance. Flacco finished 10-of-17 for 83 yards and an interception in five drives. Flacco’s interception came off a pass intended for wideout Jalen Reagor. The pass was broken up by cornerback Justin Bethel, and the ball fell into the hands of linebacker Harvey Langi for the turnover.
DeVonta Smith, previously sidelined for the better part of two weeks with a knee sprain, made his NFL preseason debut against the Patriots. Smith played well into the second quarter during his first pro game, but he came away with just two catches for 19 yards on four targets.
Meanwhile Cam Newton was carving up the Eagles’ generic pass defense.
During the Patriots’ second offensive drive, Newton, a former NFL MVP, identified Zech McPhearson, the Eagles’ fourth-round pick, as the weakest link in the secondary. Newton threw the ball to McPhearson’s assignment on three of the first four plays of the series. First, Newton connected with wideout Jakobi Meyers for an 18-yard gain against McPhearson. Following a one-yard run by Harris, Newton connected with wideout Kendrick Bourne for a 23-yard gain against the rookie. On the next play, Newton threw the ball towards McPhearson again. He completed a 10-yard pass to Meyers.
At least Milton Williams had a fine defensive game. Williams, a third-round pick, was extremely disruptive against the Patriots. Williams played the majority of the game at defensive end, and he was constantly in the backfield. With extended playing time, Williams, along with linebacker TJ Edwards, was one of the few standouts on the defensive side of the ball.
Nick Mullens took over at QB in the second half and spent a lot of time running for his life from the lousy protection from the 3rd and 4th string lines. Meanwhile Mac Jones had a sharp showing in relief of Cam Newton against Philly’s backup players. Jones was zinging and slinging it.
Injuries: Safety K’Von Wallace (groin) and tight end Jason Croom (knee) were both ruled out during the game due to injuries. Croom was carted off the field after a non-contact knee injury. He had been battling a knee injury prior to the game, but it is unclear if the injuries are related. Wallace had just returned this week from a groin injury.
And to the legions of Eagles fans who have expressed shock and dismay over the ugly 35-0 pasting, remember this was a very intentional surrender to the process by Sirianni. He’s hiding the real pea under the shell for as long as he can.
The Eagles will be off on Friday and have a private walkthrough on Saturday. Sunday, the Eagles will return to The Linc for a public practice at 7 p.m. ET.