EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Gardner Minshew sure knows how to make an entrance.
With Jalen Hurts sidelined with an ankle injury, Minshew impressed in his first start for the Philadelphia Eagles, going 20-of-25 for 242 yards with two touchdowns to power the Eagles over the New York Jets 33-18.
The offense scored on each of its first seven drives under Minshew, who posted a perfect 158.3 quarterback rating in the first half while matching Donovan McNabb for highest first-half completion rate (93.3%) by an Eagles quarterback since 1991.
“It felt so good, man. It’s the best time I’ve had since Week 1 of last year. There’s nothing like that feeling,” Minshew said. “Glad to do it with this group of guys. They made it easy for me.”
Minshew has a thing for debuts. He completed 88% of his throws in his first pro start in 2019 for the Jacksonville Jaguars. In his first start of 2020, he went 19-of-20 for a 95% completion rate.
His performance is sure to create a stir in Philadelphia. However, coach Nick Sirianni made it clear Hurts is the starter when healthy.
“I think he’s played really good football,” Sirianni said of Hurts. “There’s been times when he’s been one of the best in the league. The way he’s moved around, made plays, we look at that quarterback rating and what he’s had there. He’s played really good football when he’s in, so when he’s healthy and he’s back, he’ll be our starter.”
Hurts was a limited participant in practice this week after spraining his left ankle against the New York Giants. He has an extra week to get right, as the Eagles have a bye this week before hosting the Washington Football Team on Dec. 19.
Making his first start since last December, Minshew got off to a red-hot start, going 3-for-3 for 61 yards on the Eagles’ opening drive, with all three of those completions going to tight end Dallas Goedert. Minshew and Goedert connected for 36 yards to cap the series.
He finished the first half 14-of-15 for 188 yards with two touchdowns (both to Goedert) and became the fourth Eagles QB since 1991 to post a perfect first-half quarterback rating.
“I thought he played a really good game,” Sirianni said. “Our message to Gardner was, go out there and be yourself, protect that football. You’ve got a good supporting cast around you … so go out there and be yourself, and that’s going to be enough. And he did. He went out there and he played a really outstanding game.”
The Jets appeared to be caught off guard by the Eagles’ 11th-hour quarterback change. Cornerback Bryce Hall admitted they didn’t prepare for Minshew to start.
“No, we didn’t,” Hall said. “We prepared for Jalen.”
The Jets’ players and coaches talked all week about how they relished the challenge of facing Hurts and the Eagles’ prolific rushing attack. In the first half, the Eagles seemed ready to run, using two- and three-tight-end packages, but they threw out of that personnel grouping. Both of Goedert’s touchdown catches came on wide-open passes.
Coach Robert Saleh and linebacker C.J. Mosley downplayed the quarterback change, insisting they prepared for the Eagles’ system, not one particular quarterback. Even Hall backed that up, saying, “In terms of the preparation, had we known ahead of time, I don’t think it really honestly would’ve changed much at all.”
The Eagles acquired Minshew from the Jags for a conditional sixth-round pick in late August. He now has 39 touchdowns to 11 interceptions over 41 NFL starts.
With the win Sunday, which improved the Eagles to 6-7 this season, the team’s playoff chances increased from 25% to 30%, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index.
ESPN’s Rich Cimini contributed to this report.