During the first half of the Eagles’ 6-0 loss to the Cowboys, Donnie Jones trotted out to the field for a punt, forgetting that he was still wearing his warm-up pants. Just before long-snapper Rick Lovato zipped the ball back to him, Jones yanked down and stepped out of his warm-ups, then caught the snap and punted. Ordinarily, the sequence might have been an amusing anecdote and nothing more. But it was an indication of the quality of the Eagles’ quarterback play Sunday that their best pre-snap read came when their punter remembered to take his pants off.
The situation – if there’s a more benign word to describe Nick Foles’ performance these last two games and the uncertainty it has inspired ahead of the postseason, we’re all ears – became so dire for the Eagles that it was understandable to start thinking wild thoughts and contemplating once-crazy scenarios. For instance: Should coach Doug Pederson start Nate Sudfeld instead of Foles?
Now, of course he should not. Foles is more experienced, and he has been Carson Wentz’s primary backup all season, and if Pederson were to bench Foles for Sudfeld – a quarterback who had never taken a snap in an NFL regular-season game until Sunday – it would exhibit a measure of panic not seen since the citizens of Grover’s Mill, N.J., started preparing for a Martian invasion in 1938. Pederson is going to start Foles, and again, there’s no reasonable argument that he shouldn’t, especially if one took the most reasonable position in the wake of Wentz’s torn ACL: that without the prospective NFL most valuable player, the Eagles’ Super Bowl chances were pretty much burnt toast whether Foles, Sudfeld, Colin Kaepernick, or the ghost of Norm Van Brocklin was under center.
But after Foles’ abysmal play on Christmas night against the Raiders and on Sunday against the Cowboys, it is fair to wonder what it would take for Sudfeld to see action in a postseason game and what would happen if he did. What if Foles were to be injured? Hardly an outlandish possibility, given that he lacks Wentz’s mobility and that Jason Peters is no longer the Eagles’ starting left tackle. What if Foles were playing terribly again and the Eagles were trailing and Pederson were to grow desperate? That’s the more intriguing, and the more remote, hypothetical. But if you’re an optimistic sort, at least you can say that, if the Eagles had to go to their backup quarterback, there would be little drop-off, if any, from their starting quarterback.
Within the context of a meaningless (with respect to the standings) game and all the requisite caveats that accompanied it, Foles completed 4 of his 11 passes for just 39 yards and threw an interception – though, in fairness, those numbers would have been better had Torrey Smith not dropped a crossing-route pass that should have gone for a long gain. After replacing Foles at the start of the second quarter, Sudfeld went 19 of 23 and did not commit a turnover, but he netted just 134 passing yards, an average of fewer than 6 yards per attempt. “There were maybe a few times where I could have taken a shot down the field,” he said, “but I wanted to play efficient today.”
Well. The kid did not lack for self-assurance, and he did show that he has a stronger arm and more evasiveness inside and outside the pocket than Foles, and now he has some real, live NFL snaps under his belt. Along the Eagles sideline, before he entered the game, he bounced around like a child at the top of the stairs on Christmas morning, but he insisted the bouncing wasn’t because of nerves or his eagerness to play.
“That wasn’t excitement as much as it was staying warm,” said Sudfeld, a sixth-round pick by the Redskins in the 2016 draft who never suited up for them. “It was so cold, you want to keep your body flowing. … When you’re playing, it’s really not bad at all. But when you’re on the sideline, watching it, your hands get a little cold. Fortunately, I had my little hand-warmer and was standing next to the heater and stayed locked in, ready to go. …
“Reps always help. I felt confident before today that I could go in and do my part and help this team, but stacking some reps together is awesome. So I’m more confident than ever in my ability, and I know I can help this team out if they need me.”
It’s a pretty thing to think: the young, John Doe quarterback, stepping into what seems an impossible situation, rescuing his team and leading it to a stunning and exhilarating moment of glory. It’s a lovely dream, the kind that people around here go gaga for all the time. The reality is something else entirely. The reality is that if Sudfeld sees any action in the playoffs for the Eagles, the smidgen of hope they had without Wentz is probably rapidly disappearing anyway. Pederson’s only choice here is to stick out his chest, play the We’re 13-3 and confident and have home-field advantage card, stick with Foles, and hope his defense can save his entire football team.
Start Nate Sudfeld instead of Nick Foles? No, you would not say that. You should not say that.
But what would you say?