CLEVELAND — Nick Foles, Super Bowl MVP, completed his three first passes Thursday night.
Nick Foles, backup quarterback, then took center stage.
Foles took a safety, got strip-sacked, threw two interceptions, and nearly threw another. It was a long first half for the guy who finally brought the Lombardi Trophy to Philadelphia.
Super Bowl MVP. Remember that? Seems like a long time ago.
It seemed a lot longer watching Foles against the Browns in the Eagles’ third preseason game. It was 5-0 when Foles finished, since he only played the first half.
The “0” portion of that score meant that the Eagles’ first-team offense failed to score in the preseason, since it won’t play in the finale next week against the Jets. Foles’ preseason stats: 16-for-26, 171 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions, a 48.7 passer rating. He committed three turnovers, plus the safety.
“I really hurt us tonight,” Foles admitted.
Fox’s Erin Andrews reported that when she asked Doug Pederson whether Foles might get a little extra work in the second half, the Eagles coach said, “No. I’m done. I’ve seen enough.”
Asked why Foles played so badly, Pederson replied, “I don’t know. It’s very disappointing.”
After the game Pederson pivoted and said he was disappointed in the entire offense: “Don’t put this all on one player.”
Foles missed that memo: “We had opportunities to win tonight. That’s on me. I made too many mistakes.”
That’s about right.
Yes, it’s preseason. Yes, Foles left last week’s game with a mild shoulder injury, but it didn’t cost him any practice time. Yes, there are a couple of weeks to iron things out, and, yes, the Eagles are running an uncomplicated scheme that is relatively easy to anticipate and defend.
Shrug it off, if you like.
This was the dress rehearsal for the defending Super Bowl champions.
Against a team that is 1-34 in its last 35 regular-season games.
These mistakes — Foles’ mistakes — were basic mistakes. Elementary errors. The sort of errors he didn’t make in the Super Bowl run. The sort of errors he shouldn’t make in his seventh NFL preseason.
The sort of errors that remind everyone that the return of Carson Wentz is imperative — as soon as possible.
Foles’ first interception fluttered like a drunken duck, thrown into double-coverage. The second spun and floated like a hung slider; again, thrown to a receiver bookended by defenders, this time at the Browns’ 7-yard line.
A red-zone pick in a preseason game. Kickers hate that.
Foles tripped and fell in the end zone when he took the safety. He was late stepping up in a collapsing pocket when he was strip-sacked. He was late moving forward again when he took a later sack.
And, so, scoreless.
This might have been different had Wentz and his reconstructed knee been cleared to quarterback the team, but that might not happen even when the regular-season starts in two weeks. It might have been different if No. 1 receiver Alshon Jeffrey and his repaired shoulder, or No. 2 receiver Nelson Agholor and his fresh “lower body injury” (use your imagination) had played in the preseason. Or if 30-something legends and recent knee-surgery buddies Jason Peters, the left tackle, and Darren Sproles, the utility back, had been pressed into service for the exhibition schedule. Top running back Jay Ajayi, whose knee is always on a pitch count, didn’t play Thursday, either.
Certainly, Foles has been sorely under-supported in his understudy role in this summer’s productions. That does not excuse his thumb’s-down performance.
And it didn’t seem to matter in the first scene Thursday night.
He began the game with an 11-yard dart to rookie tight end Dallas Goedert and a pair of 7-yarders to tight end Zach Ertz, His feet were perfect; his delivery was precise; his timing, impeccable.
The rest of the evening was much harder to witness, beginning with Foles’ check-down toss to Shelton Gibson in the left flat that should have been intercepted and returned for a touchdown by Terrance Mitchell. Gibson should have come back for the ball, but, frankly, it was a pass that should have been thrown 3 yards over his head, not 2 yards short of his chest.
Foles was generally unwatchable until the Eagles’ final possession of the first half, which he began 4-for-4 for 56 yards, including a lovely 21-yard shot to Gibson down the left sideline.
Then, with 1:28 left in his preseason, on the Browns’ 7-yard line, Foles forced a pass to Ertz that linebacker Jamie Collins intercepted.