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Unflappable Jalen Hurts focused: Win on Sunday

This is the normal Wednesday now for quarterback Jalen Hurts – he is fresh off the practice field and now seated for his virtual press conference with reporters who are just trying to find kinks in his armor. They want to know about his father, Averion Sr., a high school football coach, and what conversations are like with him these days. They ask about some of the quirky Hurts-isms – "You've got to try to be the coffee bean" (more below on that one) – that pop up from time to time when he's talking to the media. They are curious how he feels about comparisons with Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott, who hosted Hurts on his recruiting trip to Mississippi State way back when. Distractions from the outside? Hurts calls that stuff "rat poison," a term he picked up from his head coach at Alabama, Nick Saban.

Hurts isn't budging. He doesn't flinch. Whether it's a five-man pass rush staring him in the face or a full-on barrage of questions from the media, Hurts is a picture of calm.

"I think we're facing a really good Cowboys team. They play well. They've been playing well. I have a lot of respect for the players that they have," Hurts said. "As a whole, I think we've just got to come out and execute, kind of find out how we want to attack them this week and just execute the game plan the coaches put together."

This isn't the kind of headlines-making "words of wisdom" that reporters want to hear. They press Hurts on the matter. Where do these "words of wisdom" come from? Why does he talk about being a "coffee bean"? Last week, Hurts explained that "you've got the carrot, the egg. You put an egg in boiling water, it hardens up. It doesn't affect anything. The carrot softens up. The coffee bean spreads and gets stronger and impacts the people around you."

What in the world does that mean?

"I guess it's a way to uplift the guys around me," Hurts said. "That's all I try and do with those sayings, I guess. I have positive energy and have always been optimistic in everything that we do."

The Eagles as a team, as a locker room, as a football operation, have turned what could have been a messy, team-splitting quarterback situation – having Hurts replace Carson Wentz as the starter – into an energy boost in the final month of the regular season. The offense has played its best, most sustained football of the season with Hurts at the helm and players returning from injury – Alshon Jeffery at wide receiver, Miles Sanders at running back, Zach Ertz at tight end, the offensive line with more stability – and, even with a 4-9-1 record, the Eagles know that if they win their final two games against Dallas and Washington and get some help (a Washington loss to Carolina on Sunday, as well as a Giants loss to either Baltimore or Dallas in these last two weeks), they would make it to the postseason.

"I credit the players. I credit the leaders on the team for keeping everything together," Head Coach Doug Pederson said. "Our common goal is to win each week. I know some teams that go through a quarterback change, it can split your team, right – 50/50 for either quarterback. But our guys have really rallied around both quarterbacks. We still have an opportunity that, who would have thought we'd be here still with a chance to win the NFC East? There is a lot to play for, so the guys have really rallied around each other and they're committed to the team. That's good to see."

It's good to see Hurts taking steps in the last three weeks – from providing a "spark" for a struggling offense in Green Bay to beating New Orleans in his first start led by a ground attack that gained 246 yards to keeping his poise down 16 points in the first quarter last Sunday in Arizona and throwing three touchdown passes, running for another, and igniting a lethal passing game – welcome back, screen game! – against the Cardinals.

Dallas has played solid football in wins over Cincinnati and San Francisco, feasting on backup quarterbacks to produce seven takeaways and reviving its division-title hopes. Hurts talks about "controlling what we can" and "attacking everything that we do" and that's really all he and the Eagles can do on Sunday. Looking at the scoreboard (Washington was flexed into the late-afternoon slate of games this week) is a distraction. Thinking about anything other than what is directly in front of them always proves costly.

He is in a "must-win" game for the first time in his NFL career and, honestly, Hurts is treating Sunday – for the Houston native, it's a return to his home state – like any other game.

"We just want to play our best game this week because it's the next opportunity to go out there and play," Hurts said.

This next test comes with the Dallas twist – the archrival of the Eagles, a rivalry that Hurts learned about as one of his first lessons upon being drafted in the spring, and he is well aware of the way the fans feel about the Cowboys. This is going to be a fun one – Hurts returns to AT&T Stadium where he led Oklahoma to the Big 12 Championship last season – and he's in a big-game moment against the rival of rivals for the Eagles and the fans.

But don't you think for a second that Hurts is treating this any differently. This is all about getting a win for the Philadelphia Eagles, and nothing more.

"We're obviously in the situation we're in," Hurts says. "Regardless of whatever goes down, it's about us."

Get a close look at the best photos from Week 15.

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