CHICAGO — Nick Foles spent a few minutes in the locker room in the afterglow of the Philadelphia Eagles’ 16-15 win over the Chicago Bears in the wild-card round reflecting at what had just unfolded. Just as he says he does after every game, even if this one clearly was a little different.
His fourth-down, go-ahead touchdown pass to Golden Tate with less than a minute left. The wild ride the Eagles have been on the past seven weeks after starting 4-6, most of it with him on the bench. Playing this game with bruised ribs against an elite Bears defense with 50 sacks.
And yes, Foles couldn’t help but think about how soon this all might end.
Will it come in the form of another miracle championship run for the Eagles as it did last season? Or will it all be over in a week when the No. 6-seeded Eagles face the New Orleans Saints — a team that clobbered them in a 48-7 stink bomb a mere 49 days ago — next week in the divisional round?
Foles isn’t even trying to pretend he’s unaware of what lies ahead in the long term. He knows that this is a franchise that has invested way too much in Carson Wentz to even consider turning its back on him now. The smart money is on the team trading Foles far, far away, perhaps to an AFC team the Eagles might not face for many years, knowing what that man is capable of when the chips are down.
But the bottom line is this: Keeping Foles, much as they might want to, just doesn't seem possible for the salary cap-strapped team and there's an emotional angle to this. The longer Foles is around, the more chance there is for Wentz feeling threatened. That chatter about keeping Foles and ditching Wentz has made for some great low-hanging talk-radio fodder. But it's just not realistic.
Foles’ career as an Eagle effectively could end at any time now.
“I always try to take a moment and reflect in the locker room after [any] game and just reflect,” Foles said. “You’re enjoying it with your teammates, but you’re also giving it everything you have. I am blessed to be able to wear this jersey at least one more week.”
After that, who knows? He could be traded to a team that badly needs stability at quarterback, which would make it potentially his fourth franchise in seven-plus years. And that serves to remind just how utterly strange and wonderful Foles’ career has been to this point and how awkward this whole Foles-Wentz dynamic has been and would be if the Eagles tried to bring him back in some form next season.
So, Eagles fans, do as Foles does: just reflect. Look back at what the man has delivered in two stints with the franchise, including Sunday’s dramatic victory against what might have been the NFL’s best defense this past season.
Foles isn’t perfect by any means, and his two first-half interceptions were a good reminder of that.
“It’s not always going to be pretty,” head coach Doug Pederson said.
But when the game is on the line … is there a guy who has built up more late-game credibility over the past 11 months than this quarterback?
Part of it is his ho-hum attitude. Not that Foles is bored; he’s just — avert your eyes, kids — boring. And that’s exactly the way the Eagles love him because they know exactly what to expect every time he gets the ball.
“He’s just the same guy every time,” tight end Zach Ertz said. “Nothing gets to him. He’s the same — first play, last play, whether it’s the Super Bowl or not. A lot of big games together, and he’s always that guy.”
“Spectacular,” said right tackle Lane Johnson. “That’s the first word that comes to mind. Every time, it seems.”
The Bears had taken a 15-10 lead with just over nine minutes left, and Foles hit Nelson Agholor on a big 13-yard catch on third-and-10 against the best third-and-10 defense out there. But Foles was 1-for-5 passing on that drive, and the Eagles had to punt. There was a chance, if the Bears could run some clock and move the ball, that it might have been his final meaningful drive of Foles’ Eagles career.
But Philadelphia’s defense held, and Foles got the ball back on his own 14-yard line. He hit Alshon Jeffery for 15 yards, Dallas Goedert for 10 yards, Agholor for 8 and Ertz for 10. It was like the previous drive didn’t exist. Then on third-and-9, Foles hit Jeffery for 11 yards down to the Chicago 2 to stun the Soldier Field crowd, simultaneously watching their former wideout burn them and getting a firsthand taste of what the Falcons, Vikings and Patriots experienced last year in the playoffs — what’s now known as Foles Magic.
It culminated on fourth-and-goal from the 2, with Foles hitting Tate on a sprint out play for the go-ahead score.
“That was our season right there,” Johnson said.
It won’t go down in Eagles lore the way “Philly Special” did in last year’s Super Bowl, but it will be a pretty good memory — no matter how things turn out — for Foles and Tate (a free agent in two months), two players who might both be playing elsewhere next season.
The Eagles had that play in their game script for this type of situation. Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said they noticed that when the Bears were in “got to have it” parts of the game that defensive coordinator Vic Fangio liked to bring empty pressure. In fact, when the Eagles called run plays on first- and second-and-goal, they had that same sprint out tagged onto the runs as the “kill” option in case the Bears were not showing pressure pre-snap.
Pederson called timeout before the fourth-down play, and he and Foles agreed they liked the call again there. And even though Foles said he maybe had practiced that particular play with Tate “one or two times” total before Sunday, they were confident it would work. All Foles felt he had to do was his normal routine: go back to the huddle, call the play and make the play.
No time or place for any extra motivational stuff. Foles earned his inspiration card long ago, and he wasn’t about to flash it on the road down late in a playoff game. Not his style.
“It’s not like ‘The Replacements’ where you have a good message there in the end [after the play call],” Johnson said. “It’s not ‘Friday Night Lights,’ where you’re saying, ‘Let’s go, boys, let’s win the state championship.’
“It’s just … let’s see if we can score.”
Score they did, and yet they still had to sweat out the game-winning field-goal attempt a few minutes later by Cody Parkey. That one hit the goalpost twice and caromed out. Never easy. Always thrilling. Even with a team led by one of the more milquetoast quarterbacks you’ll find out there.
Foles has openly talked about life after football, hinting that it might be closer rather than farther away to the end. He is steeped in his faith and is likely to lead a life of service to a higher power when football is done. Foles almost walked away from the game before the Eagles made him an offer to return to the team after two years away prior to the 2017 season. That’s what made the Super Bowl title, with Foles carrying them after Wentz went down, so much more amazing.
And all of that is what makes this run so unexpected and enjoyable. It could all end for him with this team next Sunday. But no one should be surprised if the Eagles can make this magic continue. If Foles somehow were to lead another Super Bowl run as a backup, how would you ever rate his career against any other quarterback? You just can’t.
For now, though, Foles is property of the Philadelphia Eagles — no one else — and he’s playing with the confidence that no mistake cannot be overcome and that no situation is too big for him or his team.
“Just what I learned on those stages is just how to calm myself down in a chaotic moment when there’s stuff from the outside world,” Foles said. “It’s a ton of pressure, and [I’m] just really simplifying it in my head, getting in the huddle and looking at the guys that I trust and know that it’s all on the line for us and we’re just going to get the job done.”