Did the pressure get to Foles?
Despite what Pat Shurmur said Tuesday, that Nick Foles' woeful performance against the Cowboys wasn't a step back, it certainly discouraged an Eagles organization that had liked the quarterback's potential, if it wasn't sold on his long-term prospects as a starter.
Normally, with a young quarterback who had been given the keys to the job, he would have the following week to erase the worst game of his career.
But Foles isn't expected to play Sunday against the New York Giants because of a concussion. And now that Michael Vick is healthy enough to play, it could be weeks, months, and possibly much longer before Foles has the opportunity to show the franchise he can bounce back.
"I'd like to see him out here as quickly as possible," Shurmur said Tuesday, "but there is protocol."
Shurmur, the Eagles offensive coordinator, was talking about Foles' availability to practice. But Chip Kelly and the team's top evaluators, like general manager Howie Roseman, really can't assess Foles' future until he plays in another game.
As Kelly has said in the past, a quarterback is like a tea bag - you never really know what you have until you dip him in hot water. In Sunday's 17-3 loss to Dallas, Foles was ripped apart, leaving a bitter taste for many who watched him miss open receivers with both his arm and eyes and fold in the biggest game of his career.
"It was less than his best game," Shurmur said. "I wouldn't call it a step back. We just correct and move forward. I think that's what you do. You don't make much more out of it than that."
You can almost see Eagles decision-makers, in a collective huddle, yelling, "Remain calm!" like Kevin Bacon's character in Animal House, as the onrush of Foles' critics race by, ready to declare the quarterback a bust.
And in truth, it was just one game - one brutally bad game. But for most of the last two seasons, Foles had shown steady improvement and never a moment when he looked like Cindy Brady when the red light blinked on.
Foles delivered when the bell rang two weeks ago and Vick left with a hamstring injury late in the first half of the Giants game. He delivered last December in Tampa when the Eagles needed to score a touchdown with under three minutes left to beat the Buccaneers.
"I don't think it had anything [to do with the moment]," Kelly said Monday. "That's my feeling, but I haven't spoken to him about it. But Nick never struck me as the guy that the moment kind of catches him. . . . I saw him play in college, and I don't think any time in college did I ever see Nick get overwhelmed by the moment."
Despite playing well against Kelly's Oregon teams, Foles never played in a Pac-12 championship game while at Arizona. He played in bowl games in his junior and sophomore seasons. In a 36-10 loss to Oklahoma State in the 2011 Alamo Bowl, Foles completed 32 of 50 passes for 280 yards and a touchdown, but tossed three interceptions.
A year earlier, in a 33-0 loss to Nebraska in the Alamo Bowl, he connected on just 6 of 20 passes for 28 yards and tossed an interception.
Sunday's game was arguably the most important of Foles' career. The Eagles and Cowboys were tied atop the NFC East, and with another strong effort, following his NFC offensive player of the week performance against the Bucs, he could have strengthened the argument that he deserved to start ahead of Vick.
Center Jason Kelce said he didn't think that Foles folded under pressure, noting how well he played against the Giants and in Tampa last season. He did acknowledge that he's been around players who weren't the same as the stakes got higher.
"I don't know the pressure is the reason why he had a bad game," Kelce said. "But that's certainly something that guys do struggle with. That's definitely a component."
Foles struggled from start to concussion. He completed 11 of 29 passes for 80 yards. He often threw behind, over, and under receivers. He didn't turn the ball over, but was gun-shy even though he often had time in the pocket and receivers open, sometimes even waving their hands to get his attention.
"There were times we had guys open that Nick just missed them certainly, but there were other times there were some good throws and we didn't get it done," Shurmur said. "Lot of times you go back and look at the fundamentals of playing each position. That's what we'll get corrected with Nick."
With Vick's injury history, there is a chance we haven't seen the last of Foles this season. But if we have, it's not the way he would have wanted to end his year and make a case that the Eagles didn't need to invest a high draft pick in a quarterback.
But Foles wasn't Kelly's draft pick. The coach didn't think highly enough of him to let Vick walk. Foles is not ideally suited to Kelly's preferred offense, nor is he likely good enough for a new scheme to be built around.
Shurmur was right - Sunday wasn't a step back. It felt like a giant leap.