The sizzle of the second preseason game and the debut of rookie wide receiver DeVonta Smith turned to fizzle when starting quarterback Jalen Hurts was a late scratch after suffering an upset stomach just minutes before the team emerged from the tunnel prior to kickoff. The fizzle then took another turn when center Nate Herbig's snap to quarterback Joe Flacco on the third play of the game on a first-and-10 situation from the Eagles' 41-yard line sailed over Flacco's head and ultimately was recovered by New England at the Philadelphia 9-yard line.
Two plays later the Patriots were in the end zone on their way to a 35-0 win Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field.
"It's kind of the nature of this business. You have to be ready to go at any time," Flacco said.
The story of the night was expected to be Smith, stepping on the field for the first time since the Eagles made him the 10th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. After suffering a knee injury on the fourth day of Training Camp, Smith worked hard to maintain his mental acuity of the offense and his conditioning as he rehabbed the injury, aiming to get back for some preseason reps. After two-plus weeks, Smith joined the team for the joint practices against New England and performed well enough that Sirianni gave him extended reps throughout the first half on Thursday night.
Smith caught two passes for 19 yards, but after the game, his focus was on the opportunities he missed rather than the plays he made. Smith was targeted five times and he said he had uncharacteristic lapses in focus on the three passes he didn't bring in.
"I know what I did wrong," said Smith, serious and stone-faced in his postgame press conference. "I gotta focus on catching the ball. I mean, that's all it is. Just taking my eyes away too early. I mean, there's nothing else to it. Those are plays I've gotta make."
And he will. Smith's pedigree is high based on his dominance at Alabama and the way he's played through the spring and summer since the NFL Draft. Watching him on Thursday night, Smith's release off the line of scrimmage was clean and he separated from coverage on nearly every route with his quick feet and his sharp breaks in and out of routes. It's just that, on this night, Smith battled the football and wasn't quite in sync with Flacco. At the end of the night, Smith blamed a lack of eye discipline.
"I gotta make the plays they expect me to make," Smith said. "I wouldn't call it rust (from being sidelined). I would just say I wasn't focusing on catching the ball. Trying to look back too fast before I caught the ball. I go to practice every day and work and get on the JUGS (machine). Maybe I need to hit the JUGS more."
Smith said "I think I'm right on schedule" coming back from his knee injury. He worked to get back on the field and the injury isn't a concern for him and the Eagles.
"I felt good. I just kept attacking rehab," he said. "Right now, I'm feeling good."
There wasn't a lot to celebrate on this night. Hurts was taken for tests at a local hospital after he was scratched and, according to Sirianni, he's fine and will be OK. So will the Eagles, who rested numerous starters along the offensive line and the entire defensive line along with cornerback Darius Slay. A couple of players suffered injuries – tight end Jason Croom was carted off the field with a knee injury and safety K'Von Wallace, who started, reinjured a groin that had sidelined him earlier in Training Camp.
Collectively, the Eagles move on from this tough night. The game doesn't count in the standings, right? Nobody was happy with the performance, but the Eagles were certainly satisfied with the two days of practice against New England, which Sirianni considers the equivalent of two preseason games. Now the team has an open-to-the-public practice on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field before heading to Northern New Jersey to practice against the Jets for two days before Friday's preseason finale.
"Just getting out there, working it out," Smith said. "That's what this is for."
It wasn't pretty in any sense on Thursday night. There is no hiding that. At the end of the day, though, the Eagles accepted the night for what it was, and looked ahead to finishing the preseason strong in every phase of the game.
Check out the best photos from our preseason game against New England