Now that the streets have been swept and all the police horses are safely back in their stables, the Eagles have turned their focus from the giddy joy of simply getting into the Super Bowl to the real business of actually winning the damn thing.
Whatever happens in Minneapolis on Feb. 4 — and we’ve seen enough this season to not bother with predictions — this isn’t a happy-to-be-here team that will show up and be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the moment. The Eagles are going to compete, and if the team in their way is the most consistent winner of the last two decades, that’s fine, too.
“It’s the Super Bowl,” center Jason Kelce said. “You’re always going to be playing somebody good.”
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The Eagles have some history with the New England Patriots, of course, and not just the previous Super Bowl meeting after the 2004 season, memories of which, you should pardon the expression, will be regurgitated quite regularly.
More recently, the Eagles and Pats got together for combined training-camp practices before exhibition games leading up to the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Only 10 of the players on the current 53-man roster were around to experience that two-year working agreement, but those Eagles did come away with a strong sense of what has allowed New England to keep its edge.
“Tom Brady’s still there,” Kelce said. “Even just the way he practices, you can tell why he’s so good. He takes control. Even in seven-on-seven drills that don’t mean anything to anybody, they mean something to him. He’s got a level of competitiveness in everything he does.”
Most recently, the Eagles somehow beat the 10-1 Patriots in Foxboro, Mass., near the end of the 2015 season, when Chip Kelly’s tenure was unraveling. “Somehow” required three return touchdowns — punt (Darren Sproles), blocked punt (Najee Goode), and interception (Malcolm Jenkins) — but, nevertheless, it marked the only win in five tries over the Patriots since Brady became their quarterback.
He’s no D-Mac
The Eagles will try to match him again in the Super Bowl with another 28-year-old quarterback in his sixth NFL season. But this time, it isn’t Donovan McNabb, the former second pick in the draft and an established star with undeniable credentials. It is Nick Foles, a former third-round draft choice who Kelly traded away after the 2014 season and who bounced from one end of Missouri to the other before landing back in Philadelphia to big-brother the development of Carson Wentz.
If that sounds like a mismatch rather than a match, it helps to remember that Brady was a sixth-round draft pick himself and that the first two quarterbacks Brady met in a Super Bowl, Kurt Warner and Jake Delhomme, weren’t drafted at all. Quarterbacks in the NFL aren’t only defined by their paths to the big game, no matter how modest a resume it might entail. They are defined by what they do once there. As Churchill said, “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.”
Foles, like his teammates, might not be able to scribble out a win, but it won’t be because the stage was too large. He was cool and efficient in getting the Eagles past the Falcons and Vikings. Even in his previous playoff experience, a loss to the Saints under Kelly in 2013, the outcome wasn’t because Foles played poorly. In the three postseason starts of his career, Foles is 72 for 96 on pass attempts (75 percent) and hasn’t thrown an interception.
“Everybody has confidence in Nick in this locker room,” backup quarterback Nate Sudfeld said. “He’s so level-headed and even-keeled. He’s like an anchor. He’s not really moved very much by the waves around him. He stays who he is.”
Of course, so does Brady. The sight of him storming along the bench, cape flowing behind him as he barked at his teammates during their comeback against Jacksonville on Sunday, that was the essence of Brady. Foles doesn’t have the personality to lead that way and is smart enough to know it would be foolish to fake it. He is better at being ice than fire, and his teammates are satisfied with that.
“He’s always the same, always confident,” receiver Torrey Smith said. “He believes in himself and believes in us. No matter how much adversity, we don’t doubt, we don’t waver, we believe in ourselves at all times.”
There is more than one way to win, and the Eagles don’t have to let their history with the Patriots — or the rest of the league’s, for that matter — affect the future. If they must go to battle against Tom Brady with Nick Foles, then this could be the season when it’s better to have Foles. Football works that way on occasion. The Patriots have lost postseason games with Brady as their quarterback, when the other team started Mark Sanchez and Jake Plummer. Give me Foles any time.
“I think the big thing is we were ready for the challenge,” Foles said after the win over the Vikings. “Our guys didn’t go out there and play with fear. We believe in each other, and we lean on each other.”
The Eagles will be ready for the next challenge as well, although that doesn’t come with a guarantee. It comes, this time around, with Nick Foles as their quarterback. Together, they’ll write another chapter of Super Bowl history and just hope it reads better than the last one.