PHILADELPHIA − Eagles center Jason Kelce said he was closer to retirement after the dreadful 4-11-1 season in 2020 than he was last season.
But Kelce, like he has for the past four seasons at least, did consider retirement, and the foul taste from the Eagles’ playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made him consider it that much longer.
None of that is new.
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What is new is that Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts said on Kelce’s podcast, “New Heights,” that Kelce returned in large part because Kelce was excited about Hurts’ potential. Hurts was the guest of the podcast hosted by Kelce and his brother, Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce.
“I’ve never said this, but I genuinely felt like the connection that we had, I feel like he believed in me, you know what I’m saying?” Hurts said about Kelce on the podcast. “I felt like he wanted to be a part of this. He’s been a part of so many great quarterbacks, to play with so many different types of quarterbacks in this place right here.
“And I really felt like genuinely he wanted to see what this would be like.”
This is what it’s like: The Eagles are 8-0 heading into their game Monday night against the Washington Commanders, and Hurts is having an MVP-caliber season. He has led the Eagles to 11 straight regular-season wins dating back to last season, the longest winning streak for a quarterback in team history, and the longest active streak for NFL quarterbacks.
Hurts ranks second in the NFL in passer rating at 107.8, second in yards per attempt at 8.54, sixth in completion percentage at 68.2%, and he has 18 total touchdowns (12 passing, 6 rushing).
Kelce didn’t address Hurts’ comment on the podcast, but on Friday he agreed with Hurts’ assessment.
“I thought we had a pretty darn good second half of (last) season, and it was not many pieces away from putting something really, really good on the field,” Kelce said. “It was a much easier decision, if I’m being honest, to come back last (spring) than it was the year before, going 4-11-1 (in 2020).
“That was a rough one. So, yeah, I think that (Hurts’ comment) was accurate. It doesn’t shock me that he picked up on that.”
Then he added, when asked if Hurts’ improvement from last season, when he completed just 61.3% of his passes, was greater than he expected: “I don’t think so … I always had confidence in Jalen. From the moment he has been here, I liked him. And I think we have a lot of really, really good pieces, great coaches, and it doesn’t surprise me at all that Jalen is playing the way he is.”
Hurts wasn’t surprised, either. He was asked if he saw the 8-0 start coming, the best start in team history.
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“You want me to say no?” Hurts replied. “I’m not gonna say no.”
It’s pretty much like that throughout the team.
“(Hurts) has been able to attack all parts of the field through different ways, through the different types of players we have, and that’s outside, inside, short game, deep game, intermediate game,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said. “The more (the opponents) have to prepare for, the harder we are going to be to defend.
“So that’s not only our run game, which is in the top tier of the league, but also in our passing game. Then you just open up with the way the ball is coming out, and where the ball is coming out, there’s just more and more to defend. That’s tough on any defense.”
“I saw it coming,” offensive coordinator Shane Steichen said about Hurts. “You saw the progression going up (late last season), and then you saw it through training camp, and then you saw it starting the season … Obviously, year two as a full-time starter, just seeing the different looks and the way he goes about studying tape week in and week out, and getting prepared for games.
“I think that’s what sets him apart is his preparation.”
Ironically, it’s possible that Hurts’ and the Eagles’ success this season could push Kelce into retirement after this season, especially if it ends in the Super Bowl. After all, Kelce, in his 12th season, just turned 35 last week, and he rubber-stamped second-round pick Cam Jurgens as his eventual replacement.
“We’ll see where it’s at at the end of the year,” Kelce said. “It’s always a tough decision, and I’m going to just try to enjoy this one, and think about that at the end of the year.”
Have we seen the last of Wentz?
Carson Wentz, now with the Commanders, last played in front of more than a few thousand fans at Lincoln Financial Field on Jan. 5, 2020, when he left in the first quarter with a concussion.
His actual last game at the Linc was on Nov. 30, 2020, in a 23-17 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Fans were not allowed into the stadium that day because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The next week in Green Bay, Wentz was benched in the second half, and he didn’t play again the rest of that season.
Wentz was traded to Indianapolis in the spring of 2021, then to Washington last spring. The Eagles didn’t play the Colts last season.
So as the Eagles face the Commanders on Monday night, fans will have to keep waiting, maybe forever, to see Wentz play at the Linc. Wentz is on injured reserve after breaking his finger against the Chicago Bears.
Taylor Heinicke has gone 2-1 in three games so far, better than Wentz’s 2-4 record. Heinicke’s stats are similar to Wentz’s, as in, not great.
That leaves Commanders coach Ron Rivera with a decision once Wentz is ready to return. He’s eligible to come off IR next Sunday.
Tellingly, Rivera did not say, “Wentz is our starter” when he’s ready to return. Instead, he said this: “You’re most certainly ahead of yourself. I told you guys, we’ll play the game (against the Eagles), and then I’ll decide when it’s time.”
As for next season, neither Wentz nor Heinicke seem like the answer. The Commanders drafted Sam Howell in the fifth round last spring. And the Commanders can move on from Wentz without taking a salary cap hit. If Wentz returns, he’ll count $26.2 million against their 2023 cap. Heinicke, meanwhile, will be eligible for free agency.
It’s possible that Wentz will be with his fourth team in four years in 2023, and perhaps as a backup.
As for the game, Heinicke should prove to be a more difficult challenge. In the first meeting, on Sept. 25, Wentz completed 3 of 10 passes for 24 yards in the first half, when the Eagles took a 24-0 lead and cruised to a 24-8 win. The Eagles sacked Wentz 9 times, 6 coming in the first half. Wentz finished 25 of 43 for 211 yards.
“The first game we did a good job of it, but Taylor is definitely different than Wentz,” defensive end Brandon Graham said. “First thing is to make sure we stop the run, and second, make sure we touch the quarterback, get after him.”
That will be important in keeping wide receiver Terry McLaurin from breaking out. McLaurin had 102 yards receiving in the first game, but all of those yards came in the second half, when the game was pretty much out of reach.
The Eagles’ secondary should pounce on any mistake Heinicke makes. The Eagles have the most interceptions with 12. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson leads the NFL with 5, and Darius Slay and James Bradberry aren’t far behind with 3.
But the Eagles won’t have nickel corner Avonte Maddox, who has a hamstring injury.
The Commanders should be better on defense than in the first game, with the expected return of edge rusher Chase Young. He adds to a formidable defensive line that includes Montez Sweat, Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen.
There isn’t much depth behind them, however, so expect to see the Eagles go up-tempo to tire them out. That will be especially true for Young, who hasn’t played in a year after tearing his ACL.
Score: Eagles 31, Commanders 22.
Contact Martin Frank at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.
This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Eagles-Commanders preview: Jalen Hurts kept Jason Kelce from retiring