NFL Monday Morning Madness Week 14: Hurts bests Hill in unique QB matchup

When the NFL schedule was set, few looked at this Saints-Eagles matchup and imagined anything other than Drew Brees battling Carson Wentz, possibly for playoff seeding, in a cold-weather December matchup.

Queue, 2020.

With Brees injured and Wentz and his albatross contract on the bench, one of the most unique matchups took place on Sunday when do-it-all, Swiss-army-knife Taysom Hill and dual-threat, been-through-it-all Jalen Hurts battled on Sunday.

The Eagles (4-8-1) won 24-21, dropping the Saints (10-3) to the NFC’s No. 2 spot because of their tie-breaking loss to the Packers (10-3) earlier this season.

With Taysom Hill, we know the story by now. We know why he is unique, and despite NFL Twitter taking a bad-faith approach (for whatever reason, but you can uncover possibly why if you got into the weeds, not recommended) to Hill, Sean Payton and the Saints were 3-0 under Hill before this matchup. And although the game plan has surely been altered, New Orleans has surprisingly let Hill read the field like a prototypical QB, and the 30-year-old has found some success going through his reads to fire down-field strikes.

On Sunday, Hill went 28-of-38 for 298 yards and two touchdowns, but threw an interception, often held onto the ball too long (Eagles had six sacks, some of them pure coverage sacks), and rushed for just 33 yards.

Time will tell if Hill is New Orleans’ long-term answer at QB (for next season and beyond), but anyone could see that they need Drew Brees if they are to win the Super Bowl this season.

But the story of Sunday was Hill being outplayed by Jalen Hurts.

Hurts, Philadelphia’s rookie second-round pick (a surprise at the time) won his first career NFL start over a Super Bowl contender that came into the game on a nine-game winning streak. In doing so, he joined Lamar Jackson as the only other quarterback since 1950 to have over 100 rushing yards in his first NFL start.

Hurts ran for 106 yards on 18 carries, outshining Hill at his own game, as the rookie’s presence also opened up the door for Miles Sanders (14 carries, 115 yards, two touchdowns), as Philly ran for 246 yards (6.8 yards per carry) versus one of the NFL’s stingiest defenses, particularly against the run.

The Saints came into the game without allowing a 100-yard rusher in 55 straight contests. As stated above, the Eagles had two such rushers on Sunday.

Thought of as Philly’s possible “Taysom Hill” when he was drafted last spring, Hurts is on the right path to proving that he can be more than just a situational-type player to spell Wentz —much like Hill, over the last month, is steadily proving that he, too, may be a legit starting QB.

His passing numbers (17-of-30, 167 yards, one touchdown) were pedestrian, but Hurts made several big-time throws from the pocket, and the on the run. His most important throw of the day was his second-quarter, 15-yard, back-shoulder touchdown strike to Alshon Jeffrey on 4th-and-2. Even more impressive was that Hurts delivered that throw with an all-out blitz in his face.

Poise and confidence is apparent in the young quarterback that has been through it all, including a benching in Alabama, which he handled graciously, and a transfer to Oklahoma, where he found success once more with his second college team.

“I know he’s an NFL rookie . . . but I don’t know that he could’ve experienced a whole lot more to get him ready for this than what he did in college,” said Lincoln Riley (Hurts’ head coach at Oklahoma) to NBC Sports’ Peter King.

“I mean, he goes into Alabama, starts as a true freshman, part of championship teams, and all of a sudden, he’s not the starter. Comes back in in a championship game and leads them to victory. Transfers to [Oklahoma], where they just had two Heisman trophy winners in a row, knowing he’s only gonna have one year, comes in and has a great year, new system, new teammates. He’s always got supreme confidence in himself and he trusts his preparation. I think part of him is like, ‘Man, if I’ve made it through what I’ve made it through, I trust myself that even in a new situation that I can do it. So no, not surprising to me at all that he would go play the way he did today.”

There were other great throws from Hurts, including this deep, almost-completion above. It’s clear Philly might have something in the young cat. They’ll need more than one game to judge, but could the Eagles ship Wentz to say, Indianapolis (to reunite with Frank Reich), swallowing a bunch of dead cap for his remaining two years on the contract, and build this offense around Hurts?

Again, it’s too early to tell.

Philly head coach Doug Pederson is still yet to name a starter for the Eagles late-afternoon showdown in Arizona (7-6) next week.

NFL MVP RACE

  1. Patrick Mahomes
  2. Aaron Rodgers
  3. Russell Wilson
  4. Derrick Henry
  5. Aaron Donald

The first of four consecutive MVP sections to finish out the season in my column doesn’t accept much change from my ranking from two weeks ago. Mahomes is still the clear favorite, although Rodgers is not that far behind. Any other season without a QB of Mahomes’ caliber would spurn a clear win for Rodgers, and hundreds of columns surrounding his improved play in Year 2 under Green Bay head coach Matt Lafluer, as well was what this means for Rodgers’ future in Green Bay with Jordan Love (first-round rookie QB) as his backup. Elsewhere, Russell Wilson, the “clear” favorite from the first half of the season, sits soundly in third over Derrick Henry (who is dominating defenses in December once more) and Aaron Donald, who is so good that it’s easy to overlook his play.

THE BETTER HALF

1. Kansas City Chiefs (12-1) (Last week: 1). Even on one of their ugly days (hideous, by their standards), Mahomes shook off a few mistakes to throw for 393 yards, touchdowns to Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill, and post a 91.9 Total QBR. Yeah, they’re starting to look unbeatable this season.

2. Buffalo Bills (10-3) (Last week: 4). Josh Allen has come alive again after falling back to earth some during the middle of the season. The Bills are as talented as almost anyone in the league, and are a real contender in the AFC. Would they fare better in a rematch with the Chiefs in January?

3. Green Bay Packers (10-3) (Last week: 6). Aaron Rodgers and the Packers now have a good shot at the NFC’s No. 1 seed. They’ve been looking good as of late, but some teams that would give them fits in January include the Rams and Buccaneers. And oddly enough, one of those two squads could end up being their NFC Divisional Round matchup, as one of them may get the NFC’s No. 5 seed, and face the NFC East winner in Round 1. It’s too early to tell, though.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-2) (Last week: 2). Their defense is starting to slip some without both Devin Bush and Bud Dupree. Having Dupree opposite T.J. Watt was a big advantage for the Steelers. Now, Pittsburgh must shore up issues, including their suddenly moribund-looking offense, to at least hang onto the AFC’s No. 2 seed. They’re starting to look like last year’s Patriots.

5. New Orleans Saints (10-3) (Last week: 3). They suffered their first loss with Taysom Hill. They’ve fared much better with Hill than I figured they would, but they need Drew Brees back to reach the Super Bowl. Will he return this week, in time for a big home matchup with the Chiefs (12-1)?

6. Los Angeles Rams (9-4) (Last week: 6). They dominated the Patriots (6-7) last week, giving Sean McVay at least a small taste of revenge for Super Bowl 53. Their offense is starting to round into form again, and their defense, led by stars Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, is phenomenal. No one in the NFC would like to see them come January.

7. Cleveland Browns (9-3) (Last week: 7). Can they keep things going versus the Ravens tonight? If they win soundly, it’s time to start taking them seriously. Not Super Bowl contender seriously, but at least as a tough AFC postseason opponent. Can they hang onto the conference’s No. 5 seed?

8. Tennessee Titans (9-4) (Last week: 8). The Titans took their frustrations out on the lowly Jaguars (1-12) on Sunday. The Titans are an inconsistent bunch, so this may seem crazy to say, but I think they’re the biggest threat to the Chiefs in the AFC, just above the Bills and the beat-up Steelers.

9. Indianapolis Colts (9-4) (Last week: 9). Their defense is starting to slip some, but racking up 44 points on the road, even against a defense like the Raiders, is impressive. There’s more work to be done to ensure they make the postseason, but Sunday’s win improved their chances dramatically.

10. Seattle Seahawks (9-4) (Last week: 10). There’s no better opponent than the 2020 Jets (0-13) to help your team get back on track. Or at least, to make it look like your team is trending back in the right direction. I think they are, though. All eyes are still peeking ahead to the Seahawks’ Week 16 home game versus the Rams (9-4), though. That game will likely decide the NFC West.

11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-5) (Last week: 11). The offense got off to a slow start, and Tom Brady had two awful misses to wide-open receivers, but the GOAT settled into things. The 48-yard touchdown throw to Scotty Miller was a beauty. They need to find a way to get Miller onto the field more often, even if it means decreasing Antonio Brown’s snaps. On defense, their ferocious pass rush came alive late. They’re still a collection of talent that is yet to mesh, though, and they may never do so in this weird season.

12. Miami Dolphins (8-5) (Last week: 12). They muddied the game enough early versus the Chiefs, forcing Mahomes to throw two easy interceptions and sacking him a few times, but Miami’s offense couldn’t take advantage. Tua Tagovailoa got it going down the stretch, but it was too little, too late.

13. Baltimore Ravens (7-5) (Last week: 13). Their favorable schedule gives them a great shot at the AFC’s No. 7 seed, and maybe even the No. 6 spot. If they can beat Cleveland tonight, they really could go 11-5. Let’s see if they can begin to execute. They’re beat up, though.

14. Washington (6-7) (Last week: NR). There may not be a better defensive line in the NFL than the one in Washington, where Chase Young looks like the next superstar in the line of second-overall pick defensive ends selected out of Ohio State (see: 49ers’ Nick Bosa last season). Alex Smith went down with an injury in San Francisco (his old home, where he was credited with a win) on Sunday, though, but all reports are saying he’s fine. WFT should stick with him over Dwayne Haskins.

15. Arizona Cardinals (7-6) (Last week: NR). The Cardinals moved into sole possession of the NFC’s final playoff spot on Sunday thanks to Hasaan Reddick. Reddick, Arizona’s first-round pick in 2017 (13th overall), had his fifth-year option declined in the offseason, and has mostly been considered a bust. But after a few bad seasons (and subsequent benching) at the linebacker position, the unique athlete has spent more time as an EDGE defender this season in Arizona’s aggressive, blitz-happy defense designed to mask their overall inefficiency on that side of the ball. Well, Reddick notched five sacks versus the Giants on Sunday, and Arizona’s defense came alive at the right time, albeit versus a subpar offense.

16. Minnesota Vikings (6-7) (Last week: 14). They deserve this spot over the Patriots and Raiders, for now. They likely have to win all of their remaining games (vs Chicago, at New Orleans (Christmas Day), at Detroit) to even have a chance at making the postseason. That’s doable, but unlikely.

Next up: New England, Las Vegas, Chicago, Denver, N.Y. Giants

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