HE ENTERED to a standing ovation and finished in front of an emptied stadium, and in between there was enough good and bad to debate his long-range prospects, at least for another week. Nick Foles was no messiah on Sunday for your floundering team and its increasingly beleaguered coach, but if we're thinking long range here . . . well, that's not such a bad thing.
Not if you consider your alternatives, short and long run. Not if you keep your grasp on reality, which Andy Reid seems to be losing with each error-filled Sunday he endures.
Had Foles become Saint Nick on Sunday, or even over the final seven games of the season, it could have created enough buzz to keep a head coach clearly past his expiration date around for yet another teeth-gnashing season.
Your teeth. His teeth.
And the teeth of Vick, Nick or whomever happens to be calling hike and running for his life at the time.
Afterward, Reid said that the mistakes made by his 3-6 team "were different than the week before." He has said this now after each of the five consecutive losses he has endured. Not sure what he sees that we don't, or even that there are enough mistakes over the course of a football game to make such a claim mathematically possible.
Truthfully, the only clarity in this mind-numbing season is that the mistakes are indeed similar, if not identical, each week. They can't block. They can't tackle. Their special-teams play is so awful that poor Bobby April looked like a ping-pong ball on the sidelines on Sunday, bouncing between an enraged Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg after King Dunlop went AWOL for a field-goal attempt and the Eagles had to burn a timeout.
This, in fact, may have been a new mistake.
But back to young Saint Nick. He completed 22 of 32 passes for 219 yards and a touchdown on Sunday, did some good things and did some young things, provided evidence that he may indeed be a better option than Michael Vick, and evidence that he may not be. What seems clear however is that the Eagles' 3-6 record is no mirage, no offshoot of bad luck, and that the players Reid continues to insist are playoff caliber, are not.
Foles and the offense sputtered after Vick left with a concussion in the second quarter, but the rookie found some footing during his first two series of the third quarter. Eluding a potential sack, he found Jeremy Maclin wide open for a 44-yard touchdown pass that pushed the Eagles into the lead for the first time all day. And when the Birds got the ball back, he grinded out a 50-yard drive that took over 6 minutes and ended in a field goal.
Philadelphia 17, Dallas 10. There was a palpable buzz among the announced crowd of 69,144. Maybe the season wasn't lost.
But then things returned to normal. Tony Romo wriggled out of the hands of both Fletcher Cox and Jason Babin on a third-and-5 from his 39 and hit Miles Austin for 25 yards. Three plays and an extra point later, the Cowboys tied the game.
Foles threw a pick on his 17-yard line to start the fourth quarter, but a defensive holding penalty away from that play saved him. But after Dwayne Harris put Dallas ahead with a 78-yard punt return, Foles threw behind DeSean Jackson, the ball was tipped into Brandon Carr's hands, and he raced 48 yards the other way to push Dallas ahead, 31-17.
"I have to get him a better ball," said Foles. "Simple as that. I have to deliver to him. I have to give DeSean the ball right in front, right on so he can catch it and get up field and I have to be more accurate. It's as simple as that."
It ended 38-23, Cowboys, after Foles managed a 10-play, 77-yard drive in the final minutes, then fumbled the ball on his own 1 inside of the final minute, resulting in a defensive touchdown and the final score.
"I made some mistakes," Foles said when asked to evaluate his play. "I can't turn the ball over . . . I turned the ball over twice and they ended up being touchdowns and I can't do that. But that's a learning experience. I'm going to learn from it and get better."
So where do we go from here? If you keep any sort of grasp on reality, the rest of this season should be about the long-range capabilities of their rookie quarterback. This may lead to learning-curve losses and a hopeless December, but it will also lead to a change at the head coaching position.
Maybe your heart wanted Nick Foles to be messianic on Sunday, but your head should know better by now. The magic number to guarantee a new head coach is down to two.
Let him be Saint Nick after that.