Second-year quarterback helps carry team from worst to first
“I’m going to keep moving forward. I’m not going to let that play defeat me and make me a worse player. I’m going to use that play to learn from it so that next time I won’t do it.” NICK FOLES, Eagles quarterback, on a second-quarter sack
PHILADELPHIA — Nick Foles led the NFL in passer rating, helped the Philadelphia Eagles win the NFC East title and had a sensational statistical year as a sophomore.
Has he earned the franchise quarterback title yet?
“I don’t want to comment on any player, but how could you not be impressed with Nick and everything he’s accomplished?” owner Jeffrey Lurie said after Saturday night’s 26-24 loss to New Orleans in an NFC wild-card playoff game. “Including tonight; no turnovers, led us back from 20-7. Incredibly impressive.”
If the Eagles going from worst to first under rookie coach Chip Kelly was the biggest surprise, Foles’ emergence had to be second on that list. He was outstanding after replacing an injured Michael Vick in Week 5.
Foles threw 29 touchdown passes, including two against the Saints, and only two interceptions, setting an NFL record for best touchdown/interception ratio. His passer rating of 119.2 was the third-highest in NFL history. He finished 8-3 as a starter.
Moreover, Foles showed poise, leadership and remarkable maturity for a guy who turns 25 on Jan. 20.
“I know that this season is over, but we’re going to keep working and growing as a team,” Foles said. “I love playing here, I love this city, I love this team, and I love this organization because I know the heart of it. The heart of it is the heart of Philadelphia. Like coach Kelly said, ‘We fight,’ and we’re going to keep fighting.”
Foles wasn’t at his best against the Saints, contributing to the abrupt end to Philadelphia’s season. He completed 23 of 33 passes for 195 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. But he also made some costly decisions.
The biggest mistake was holding the ball far too long and taking a sack for an 11-yard loss early in the second quarter. Alex Henery missed a 48-yard field goal on the next play. Obviously, those extra 11 yards didn’t help the kicker on a cold, windy night.
“It’s tough. You don’t want to do that, but you have to keep playing to the next play. You can’t let a mistake like that — taking a sack or an intentional grounding — defeat you on the next one,” Foles said.
“I’m going to keep moving forward. I’m not going to let that play defeat me and make me a worse player. I’m going to use that play to learn from it so that next time I won’t do it.”
Kelly already said, jokingly, that Foles is his starter for the “next thousand years.” While there’s no arguing the success Foles had, there’s no denying his lack of speed isn’t ideal to run some of the zone-read plays Kelly features in his up-tempo offense.
Those plays didn’t work against the Saints, who held NFL rushing champion LeSean McCoy to 77 yards on 21 carries. Because Foles isn’t a threat to keep the ball and make big gains, the Saints focused on shutting down McCoy whenever the Eagles ran a zone-read play. Foles kept the ball once and ran for 3 yards.
So it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Eagles try to retain Vick as the backup. Vick made $7 million this season on a restructured deal. He won the starting job in training camp and played well early in the season before suffering a hamstring injury.
“Michael has been as impressive (as Foles) to us just internally,” Lurie said. “Incredibly mature teammate, leader and somebody who helped Nick tremendously. He’s been a joy to have. He represented the team always with class. I didn’t know a lot about Michael before he came, heard a lot, and he’s been very impressive.”
Vick was 20-20 as a starter for the Eagles, and has missed at least three games to injuries each of the past four years. He’ll be 34 when next season starts, considers himself a starter and should have opportunities to be the No. 1 guy elsewhere.
But he also has said he’s open to returning.
No matter what happens with Vick, the Eagles might look to draft a quarterback as insurance if Foles turns out to be a one-year wonder. Rookie Matt Barkley struggled in limited action this season, and probably wouldn’t be higher than a No. 3 next season.
All that will come later. For now, players are dealing with the bitter realization the season is over.
“I know the heart of this team, and it’s going to hurt for a long time, but I know that everyone is going to keep their head held high,” Foles said.