EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Throughout the week of practice knowing that Jalen Hurts was limited on the field and a question mark with a sprained ankle for Sunday at the New York Jets, Gardner Minshew prepared to play, to make his first start as an Eagle and his first start at quarterback since the 2020 season. It had been a while, Minshew admitted, but he played at MetLife Stadium in a 33-18 win over the Jets as if there wasn't a speck of rust to knock off.
Minshew completed his first 11 passes on the way to a terrific day as he went 20-of-25 for 242 yards with two touchdown passes to Dallas Goedert. Effectively using the screen game and the short-passing game – "We took what they gave us," Minshew said – he sliced and diced the Jets' defense for 125 yards and the two touchdowns on Philadelphia's opening two drives and then put together an 8-play, 94-yard touchdown drive that ended on a Kenny Gainwell 18-yard run on the team's third possession.
In all, the Eagles rolled up 418 total net yards of offense, 26 first downs, and 185 rushing yards. They scored on their first seven drives, including four more Jake Elliott field goals (he is now 22-of-24 on field goals this season and 33-for-33 on his PATs).
Team win, with an all-around offensive performance punctuating the victory.
Minshew, pinch-hitting for Hurts in Week 13, delivered and the Eagles raised their record to 6-7 with the bye week ahead. Stretch run, here come the Eagles.
"It felt so good, man. It's the best time I've had since Week 1 last year (when he was with Jacksonville). There's nothing like that feeling. Glad to do it with this group of guys. They made it easy for me," Minshew said. "It was a lot a lot of fun."
The defense deserves a shout out here as well, making great adjustments after allowing three touchdowns on New York's opening three possessions. Rookie quarterback Zach Wilson was impressive early, completing 12-of-14 attempts in the first half, but the Eagles allowed only 73 total net yards in New York's first three possessions of the second half. The front four pressured Wilson and the coverage on the back end tightened and the Eagles squeezed the New York offense to zero points in the final two quarters. Safety Marcus Epps came up with a big interception and Josh Sweat (1.5) and Javon Hargrave (0.5) combining for two quarterback sacks.
But the biggest story was the way the offense played as a group. Head Coach Nick Sirianni and Offensive Coordinator Shane Steichen put together and executed a great game plan, involving Dallas Goedert early – Goedert had a career-high 105 yards and 2 touchdowns with 6 catches on 6 targets. Then it was another strong performance for the offensive line who helped pave the way for 185 yards rushing, including 120 from Miles Sanders on a career-high 24 carries. Quez Watkins had 3 receptions for 60 yards, Gainwell chipped in with 54 rushing yards and 33 receiving yards.
"Taking what they gave us, I think we did a good job of that as an offense in general," said Minshew, acquired in a trade with Jacksonville on August 28 for the cost of a conditional sixth-round draft pick in 2022. "Taking completions, getting a lot of positive plays in the run game. The O-line gave us plenty of time, let me see the field and get it to our guys in space.
"I think we were running the ball well early, protecting well, Nick and Shane called a great game."
The Eagles certainly had a much better taste in their mouths following Sunday's game than they did a week earlier after the loss at MetLife to the Giants, a game in which Hurts suffered a sprained ankle that left his status in doubt until Sunday morning. Credit goes to the coaching staff for making sure Minshew was sharp when his number was called.
"When we came into this game, we knew Jalen was banged up," Sirianni said when asked about how much he changed the game plan with Minshew in instead of Hurts. "We didn't know Jalen wasn't playing until today. We weren't going to have a big quarterback run game today as far as our run game goes. So in the run game, not a lot. In the pass game, there's going to be differences because it's a different guy pulling the trigger. We have our favorites. Shane and I have our favorites (passing plays), Brian (Johnson, quarterbacks coach) has his favorites) ... but it's about what the quarterback is comfortable doing. Obviously, there are going to be some differences."
Minshew and the offense were in sync in the first half. The screen game gained huge chunks of yardage. Jets defenders bounced off of Goedert when he had the football. Watkins broke into the open and was a big-play option. Sanders ran downhill and was strong to and through the hole and when he needed to make defenders miss, he did that.
And then there was Minshew, who had a ball in his Eagles starting debut. Sirianni said after the game that Hurts would return to the starting lineup when he was healthy again – hopefully, Sirianni said, when the Eagles host Washington on December 19 – but for this Sunday Minshew was the man in charge.
"Our message to Gardner was, 'Go out and be yourself. Protect that football. You've got a good supporting cast around you – you've got a good offensive line, you've got good receivers, you've got good backs, you've got a good running game, you've got a good defense, so go out there and be yourself and that's going to be enough.' He did," Sirianni said. "He went out there and played a really outstanding game. I'm really happy for Gardner and the game he played."
The value of a backup quarterback, as we have learned through the years, is extremely high and the Eagles have done a great job making sure they have a good No. 2 behind a good No. 1. Minshew had his number called on Sunday and in the best "next-man-up" situation, he came through and the Eagles gained a huge win to set up a wild four-game stretch run against the NFC East.
"It's been a learning experience all year for me learning the system and taking a step back and being in a new role for the first time for an extended period of time," Minshew said. "It's been a lot of learning, working on myself, kind of watching, and learning from a different perspective."
All that time he invested paid off. The Eagles will now have some time away to heal some significant bumps and bruises, with a playoff race to rejoin in two weeks.