Nick Foles doesn’t recall a moment of clarity, allowing him to realize earlier this season that he was the new starting quarterback for the resurgent Philadelphia Eagles.
He didn’t need to.
“I never really worried about it,” said Foles, whose Eagles host the No. 6-seeded Saints on Saturday night in an NFC wild-card playoff. “I just had the opportunity to play, and I was going to do whatever I could to help my team be successful.”
At the time, when Foles took over for the injured and ineffective Michael Vick, he didn’t need to know he was the guy for first-year coach Chip Kelly’s spread offense. Didn’t matter. All that mattered was he was on the field, and that meant he was in a position to help the Eagles recover from last season’s 4-12 campaign.
Starter or backup, didn’t matter. Entering Saturday’s first round of the playoffs, however, the answer is now clear.
Foles — who attended the same Austin, Texas, high school at Saints quarterback Drew Brees — has proved a quicker learner of Kelly’s fast-paced offense, compiling 2,891 yards and 27 touchdowns in 10 starts.
Foles tied a league record with seven TD passes during a 49-20 win at Oakland during Week 9. He also threw for 406 yards.
Just as impressive, he’s a second-year pro with just two interceptions, what he credits to the Eagles offensive line giving him time to get through his reads and receivers running solid routes; if they can’t get to a pass, they’ve also worked to make sure nobody else gets it.
Coupled with the league’s top-rated rusher — LeSean McCoy has 1,607 yards and nine TDs — the Eagles (10-6) won eight of Foles’ 10 starts, including Sunday night’s 24-22 win against Dallas, giving the Eagles the NFC East title. Foles threw for 262 yards and two scores. Worst to first — not the kind of season many expected after the firing of longtime coach Andy Reid.
It’s not just what the offense accomplishes under Foles. It’s also the speed in which it occurs.
It’s the tempo. Chip Kelly came in from Oregon and brought that fast-tempo style of offense. They run a play, and then they’re back on the line in, like, 16 seconds, or something like that. He’s really introduced that style of play into the NFL, and it’s working for him.”
The Saints enjoyed mixed success this season against established quarterbacks.
New England’s Tom Brady and Carolina’s Cam Newton were curtailed until the Saints gave them opportunities late to score on game-winning drives. Russell Wilson, with help from his defense, threw three touchdown passes in a 34-7 Seattle rout. Tony Romo of Dallas finished a loss to the Saints with just 128 yards and one score. San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick (127 yards, two TDs) wasn’t much better.
Foles is not the dual threat Vick was during his best moments in the NFL. But he doesn’t have to be to present a major challenge for the Saints defense, which ended the regular season ranked fourth in the league.
“You see someone that is playing with a very good awareness, confident, gets rid of the ball,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “I think he has done a great job of delivering and keeping receivers on the move with the accurate location as opposed to stopping them with a throw that maybe isn’t located as well. I think you see all those things on film, his poise.”