The most important play of the Eagles’ preseason didn’t involve a long bomb down the sideline, or a pick-six, or a scoop-and-score, since none of that really happened anyway. It didn’t involve a sack, or a stunning reception, or an amazing, diving tackle.
It didn’t even happen, technically, on the field.
It was the result of what happened after the sixth play of the preseason, on a third-and-five, when New York Jets linebacker Quincy Williams lowered his right shoulder at the Jets’ 35 and in a burst of stupidity knocked down Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts, who was already a few feet out of bounds. The action resulted in an unnecessary roughness penalty, and preserved the drive, later ending in a Hurts-to-Dallas Goedert 22-yard touchdown pass on the Eagles’ first preseason series.
The significance of Williams’ hit, which cost the linebacker a $10,609 fine by the NFL, goes deep and is important.
For one, Hurts immediately bounced back up like a sponge ball, showing no ill effects of the hit. More importantly, numerous teammates, with left tackle Jordan Mailata being the most prominent, ran to Hurts’ defense. Mailata was quickly joined by guard Isaac Seumalo, and right tackle Lane Johnson, among others. Even Eagles’ head coach Nick Sirianni was screaming his head off across the field at the Jets’ sideline over the situation.
It showed how much this team cares about Hurts.
It’s interesting, because during the Eagles’ 17-9 wildcard playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks in 2020, many Eagles took issue with defensive end Jadeveon Clowney lowering his head and knocking out Carson Wentz in the first quarter after the game, though only left tackle Jason Peters was the only one to confront Clowney in real time on the field. Some disputed whether it was a cheap shot or not. Clowney was not penalized (nor later fined) for the hit and referee Shawn Smith explained Wentz was defined as a “runner” who did not give himself up.
What can’t be disputed was the Eagles’ starting quarterback was knocked out of the game because an opposing player lowered his head into the back of their quarterback’s head as he was being tackled.
Not so when Williams hit Hurts. This was, by far, more blatant than the Clowney shot on Wentz, which needed further scrutiny to be seen. No one, other than a passing comment by Peters, raised any ire over it. With Hurts, though, a handful of teammates went over to the Jets’ sideline to enforce that no more egregious shots on Hurts would be tolerated.
The act spoke volumes—in a preseason game.
“That’s what we’re about in the end,” Hurts said after the game. “That’s us having each other’s backs. That’s Philly. That’s Coach Sirianni. That’s Jordan Mailata ... It’s everybody.”
Hurts makes it a point to be as accessible and to communicate with as many people in the NovaCare Complex as he can, unlike his predecessor who tended to be guarded and standoffish. Hurts has gone out of his way to include others in workouts— on offense and defense. When A.J. Brown was acquired, it was a great fit. Hurts and Brown were already working out together. During the offseason, Hurts made it a point to include teammates on both sides of the ball, sometimes going to them to get in more work.
There’s a lot of Eaglesspeak and NFLspeak that goes on in the league, and with the players and their media coaching and coaches, that makes it more arduous to peek through the weeds and tall grass as to what’s genuine and what’s disingenuous. It was more than just for show when Mailata, Seumalo, Johnson, and a few others ran over to defend Hurts. It was real.
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who has written feature stories for SI.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com, MLB.com, Deadspin and The Philadelphia Daily News. In 2006, he was nominated for an Emmy Award for a special project piece for ESPN.com called “Love at First Beep.” He is most noted for his award-winning ESPN.com feature on high school wrestler A.J. Detwiler in February 2006, which appeared on SportsCenter. In 2015, he was elected president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.