- Jon Marks American-Statesman Correspondent
Will he be “St. Nick” again?
Will the ghost of Nick Foles past — the one who made it to the Pro Bowl after throwing 27 touchdowns and only two interceptions in 2013 — resurface now that the postseason is underway? Or will he continue to struggle, overthrowing or under-throwing open receivers, making Philadelphia Eagles fans rue the day Carson Wentz went down for the count with a torn ACL?
For his part, the 28-year-old Foles insists he’s not worried. He says he knows what he’s capable of doing, like the day he threw a NFL–record tying seven touchdowns in Oakland for Chip Kelly’s Eagles. He’s confident by the time the Eagles finally take the field next Saturday against either the Falcons, Panthers or Saints, things will be just fine.
“I feel great,” Foles said after Sunday’s dreary 6-0 loss to the Cowboys in the regular season finale. “I know what I can do. I feel really confident and I know the guys are confident in me. I’m excited to get to work, get ready for the playoffs and keep this thing rolling.”
It’s all so improbable. Four years ago, in the NFC wild card game, Foles left the field after throwing a touchdown pass, giving the Eagles a 24-23 lead with 4:54 to play. But he never returned. Drew Brees led New Orleans downfield for a 26-24 game-winning field goal at the gun.
It was supposed to only be the beginning for Foles. Instead, his career turned into a soap opera. A broken collarbone wrecked his 2014 season, followed by a stunning trade that sent him to St. Louis in exchange for the Rams’ Sam Bradford. Foles started for the Rams in 2015, but it just wasn’t the same. Eventually they released him.
Foles, after briefly contemplating retirement, latched on with the Kansas City Chiefs, reuniting him with the coach who had drafted him, Andy Reid. But the reunion quickly soured. The Chiefs released him after the 2016 season.
Foles chose to return to Philadelphia, the only place where he had known success. Content to serve as Wentz’s backup and mopping up a few lopsided wins, Foles basically was minding his own business when Wentz blew out his knee in Los Angeles on Dec. 10.
Suddenly, like taking a step back in time, Foles once again is the Eagles’ main man. Older, presumably wiser and more appreciative than ever.
“Just to be a Philadelphia Eagle again has been surreal,” Foles said.
He started out blazing, leading the Eagles to the winning score that day against his old Rams team. Then he threw four touchdowns a week later to beat the Giants before scuffling under brutal, cold, windy conditions in Philadelphia the past two weeks.
“I’ll always say it’s a great honor,” he said. “It’s been a tremendous season with these guys. I mean, we’re 13-3. Unfortunately we didn’t put it together the last two weeks as an offense. We haven’t done what we’ve wanted to.
“But we’re going to continue to improve and be ready to go for the playoffs,” Foles added. “Preparation builds confidence. In anything you do, you prepare. You go into a test, what do you do? You study. You prepare. You’re confident going in and you do well. Same thing with football.”
After playing for four teams over the past four years, Foles should know.
“He’s played a lot more football now than before and been through four different coaching staffs,“ said center Jason Kelce. “He’s kind of been around the block, so he can pick and draw things from everywhere he’s been.
“But he’s still the same guy, out there having fun, enthusiastic. Only now he kind of knows what he likes. He’s just much more seasoned.”
And, they believe, quite capable of getting the Eagles through the NFC playoffs to the Super Bowl. They’ll draw either the Falcons, who are the defending NFC champions, or the Panthers, whom they beat back in October, or the Saints, quarterbacked by Brees, another former Westlake star.
“We’re confident in Nick,” said tight end Zach Ertz, who caught that late touchdown from Foles in that 2013 wildcard loss to the Saints. “We just have to play better as an offense. It doesn’t fall solely on Nick. He’s the quarterback, so he’s going to get the highest of highs and lowest of lows from the outside people.”
Besides, Foles knows he doesn’t have to be Wentz. He just has to be efficient enough to run the show, not turn the ball over and let the rest of his teammates, the weather and a raucous fan base inside Lincoln Financial Field do the rest.
“It’s a huge advantage for us to have home-field advantage in this weather,” said Foles, who signed a two-year deal worth a reported $11 million to return to his old Philadelphia stomping grounds. “ We know it’s going to be cold. We know it’s going to be rocking.
“As it gets colder in Philadelphia, we’ll be able to practice in it and be outdoors in it and do more of that. So we’re going to be able to get more used to it. It is a huge advantage to us. Teams coming up here don’t want to play in this.”
Of course, Brees and the Saints poked a hole in that theory back in 2014 and may get another shot depending on how things play out this weekend. As enticing as a rematch between Brees and the man who broke all of his records at Westlake might be, Foles won’t go there.
“I’m excited for whatever team we face,” said Foles, known as “Nicky 6” around these parts. “I’m excited to prepare for them and go face them at the Linc.
I’ve played a lot of football. I know who I am as a player. I’m confident because I’m confident in myself and confident in my teammates. I know we’re capable of doing great things.”
Can the Eagles defy the odds and still reach the Super Bowl after losing Wentz? Will Foles again be Saint Nick, as they like to call him, or will he fall? Next week, Foles will take the field at the Linc, trying to pick up where he left off four years ago.
For the kid from Austin, who could ask for more?