Proximo: Learn from me. I wasn't the best because I killed quickly. I was the best because the crowd loved me.
Maximus: I will win the crowd. I will give them something they've never seen before.
- From "Gladiator"
T HE COACH tells the story better each time it seems, relishing and reliving the details of his first good look at the heart and mind of Nick Foles. A big gangly quarterback from Arizona, barely more fleet of foot than a goal post, hit and hit and hit again by Oregon's defense, on his way to the mat again when . . .
"He literally completed a 13-yard pass against us lefthanded," Kelly said after Foles' latest effort to improve his standing in the court of public opinion, a 24-16 victory over the Washington Redskins. "We chinned him, he was going down, switches the ball to his lefthand and still gets the completion. Then he gets up and makes another play against us."
"I felt like my back was broken when I got up after that play," Foles said. "I didn't even know I could throw lefthanded to tell you the truth. I had never really done it - no, actually I had, and I was really awful at it. I just got lucky. You play, you hope for the best when it came out. But I'll stick to throwing righthanded." Said Kelly, "I've admired him. Love the fact that I get to coach him and don't have to coach against him. He is a tough kid.''
The tough kid took his shots again yesterday. He took his shots downfield, and he took his shots in his own backfield, and he took some shots with those PGA feet of his, lumbering with the ball nine times for 47 yards including a touchdown, outgaining the more celebrated and admired quarterback on the other side of the field.
Foles also completed 17 of 26 passes for 298 yards, finishing with a passer rating of 104.3. And when it was over, the second-year man who was not supposed to be part of the Chip Kelly plan had engineered a third consecutive Eagles victory, this time over the Washington Redskins, that has pushed the Eagles into sole possession of first place in a division that has tested the devotion of fans from New York to Dallas.
Maybe that explains the half-empty second tier of Lincoln Financial Field for much of the second half of play, despite a balmy November afternoon and the prospects of a 24-0 lead finally ending the Eagles 10-game home-losing streak, nearly 14 months after it began.
Or maybe they simply feared what then happened, that lead evaporating into a white-knuckled ending, the victory assured only after Brandon Boykin leapt high deep in the end zone to intercept the last of the egregious errors made by Robert Griffin III in this game.
You remember him. The quarterback that would fit so nicely into Kelly's offense, his legs forcing teams to defend all 11 players on offense, his arm taking advantage of the coverage opportunities that presents.
It only works though, as we found out again yesterday, if the head cooperates, when the quarterback sees what he's supposed to see and throws to where he's supposed to throw, and runs when, and where, he's supposed to run. In the season following his knee surgery, Griffin has, in the two games against the Eagles, been both inaccurate and ill-advised, throwing over open receivers, throwing to the other team.
Meanwhile Foles has run Kelly's offense, with the exception of that Dallas game, the way the coach has insisted all along he would be able to run it. He scored the game's first touchdown by faking it to LeSean McCoy and knocking his way into the end zone from the 4-yard line. He got buried by a blitzing London Fletcher. He scrambled through a huge hole down the middle of the field for 14 yards.
None of it was very pretty. Whether he ran into bear-hugging arms or went down on his own, the end of the runs were flat-out ugly.
"We're just giving him a lot of crap for not sliding better," center Jason Kelce said. "You'd think an NFL athlete would figure that out better. But for some reason quarterbacks never seem to slide very well."
"I was a basketball player," explained Foles. "And you don't slide on a basketball court.
"But," he said quickly, "it's something I am going to work on for sure because I think it is smart that I learn how to slide and do it a little more gracefully."
Might even keep him out there for Weeks 13-16, when the Eagles play three of their next four games at a home that - fickle fans notwithstanding - felt a little sweeter after yesterday's game. The Eagles are still a work in progress, but the quarterback that was supposed to be the square peg to their success as a whole has been the opposite. He has been smart. He has been accurate. And when he's had to, he has made the best of the wheels he has.
It's too soon to say Nick Foles has arrived. Or won the crowd. But if he keeps this up, there will be a lot of frustrated store owners this Christmas, wishing they had stocked more Eagles jerseys with a "9" painted on them.
On Twitter: @samdonnellon