PHILADELPHIA − Much of the Eagles’ attention is on Jalen Hurts’ return Sunday against the Giants in a crucial season-finale.
But he’s not the only key player coming back from injury.
The Eagles activated safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and defensive end Robert Quinn off injured reserve Saturday, giving the Eagles a much-needed boost on defense.
Gardner-Johnson has missed the last five games after suffering a lacerated kidney on Dec. 4 against Tennessee. Despite missing so much time, Gardner-Johnson is still tied for the NFL lead in interceptions with 6. The Eagles acquired Quinn before the trade deadline.
The question is where will Gardner-Johnson play because nickel corner Avonte Maddox is missing his second straight game with a toe injury. Gardner-Johnson played nickel for the previous three seasons with New Orleans. If he plays there, then Reed Blankenship will play safety next to Marcus Epps.
If Gardner-Johnson goes back to safety, where he has played for the Eagles, then Josiah Scott will play nickel. It’s also possible that Gardner-Johnson will play both positions − safety in base defense before switching to nickel on passing downs.
Quinn, meanwhile, played in five games since the Eagles acquired him before going on IR with a knee injury. Quinn hasn’t had any sacks since coming to the Eagles. But his return is needed because it coincides with Josh Sweat’s neck injury suffered last Sunday against the Saints.
Sweat, who has 11 sacks, was ruled out for the game.
Hurts is returning despite being listed as questionable on the injury report all week. Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said Friday that Hurts is “trending in the right direction” toward playing. Gardner Minshew started the last two games in Hurts’ place, both losses.
“It’s been good getting (Hurts) back out there, getting him work,” Minshew told reporters Friday. “He looks great. Real good. He’s getting the work in out there.”
It’s safe to assume that listing Hurts as questionable was gamesmanship on the part of Sirianni. But really, it’s a silly gesture, especially for this game.
The Giants are more interested in coming out of this game healthy. After all, they’re locked into the No. 6 seed no matter what happens against the Eagles. And Giants coach Brian Daboll has already given a strong indication that Giants quarterback Daniel Jones won’t play by giving a practice-squad elevation to quarterback Davis Webb.
There’s a good chance running back Saquon Barkley won’t play either.
The Eagles, despite having the best record in the NFC, are expected to start all of their regulars because they have to win the game in order to lock up the NFC East title and No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs with the first-round bye that goes with it.
A loss, coupled with a Cowboys win over the Commanders, makes the Eagles a wildcard team.
In other moves, the Eagles also signed P Brett Kern to the 53-man roster because he was out of practice squad elevations. To make room for Kern, Gardner-Johnson and Quinn, the Eagles placed LB Shaun Bradley (wrist) and DE Janarius Robinson (ankle) on IR. They waived G Sua Opeta on Friday.
The game will air Sunday at 4:25 p.m. on CBS with Ian Eagle, Charles Davis and Evan Washburn providing coverage.
3 things I’m watching
- All about Hurts: The most intriguing thing about Hurts’ return is how the Eagles will use him. It’s safe to assume that he won’t run the ball 17 times like he did in his last game. But he will have to run somewhat. So can his shoulder take a hit? And can he throw deep and with the same accuracy?
- A.J. Brown’s record: Brown needs just 9 yards to become the Eagles’ single-season receiving leader, surpassing Mike Quick, who had 1,409 yards in 1983. That should be easy enough with a quick slant on the first play of the game.
- Sack record: The Eagles need 5 sacks to surpass the Bears’ 1984 record for sacks in a season with 72. Sure, the Eagles are playing a 17th game, which was added in 2021. But that shouldn’t cheapen the record at all. Not when QBs are much more mobile now than they were back then. The Eagles have had at least 6 sacks in each of the last five games, the first NFL team to accomplish that.
Contact Martin Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.