The Eagles were coming off their midseason bye, and they had won their previous game, against the Washington Redskins, and their young quarterback had played well again: 298 passing yards and a rushing touchdown in the midst of a five-game winning streak. And so the young quarterback was asked how he was handling this sudden rush of success and excellence at football’s highest level.
“I don’t think about it,” Nick Foles said in late November 2013. “A very wise coach once told me, ‘Clear the clutter.’ Just thinking about all that stuff, all it does is cause anxiety. My faith has always been the most important thing, my family. So I’ve always approached the game that as long as my faith is strong and my family is good, I’m good no matter what.
“I speak the truth: If today is my last day, I’ll be very thankful for it, because I’ve seen a lot of my teammates stop playing due to injury, due to concussions, whatever, so I know it can be taken away at any time, and I don’t worry about doing too much. When you start doing too much, you’re bound to make a mistake, and you start putting on that pressure.”
These were astute and mature words from Foles, back when he was having that marvelous, outlying season that can still be captured in two integers separated by a hyphen: 27-2. He would do well to remember those words now.
On Tuesday, with nearly two weeks yet to pass before the Eagles’ divisional-round game on Jan. 13, coach Doug Pederson faced the inevitable, necessary questions about Foles’ hold on the team’s starting quarterback job. The questions were necessary because of the Eagles’ previous two games, in which Foles completed 23 of 49 passes, gained a first down on just one of 17 third-down attempts, and led the offense on exactly one touchdown drive in five quarters of action. And they were necessary not because of the content of Pederson’s answer or answers – that he would confirm Foles would start was predictable – but because of the manner in which he might answer. Just raising the possibility that Pederson might bench Foles for Nate Sudfeld and considering the scenarios under which it might happen could be revealing, and as things turned out, it was.
“It’s hard to say right now until I’m in that situation,” Pederson told reporters. “Listen, it’s a one-game season. It’s hard to be in desperation mode, but if you are in that mode, who knows?”
It was a tepid endorsement, to put it mildly, and either Pederson or the Eagles seemed to realize as much. After the news conference, the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that Pederson had sent him a text message that read, “My guy is Nick Foles, end of story.” If Pederson had felt that he had clarified it earlier, he wouldn’t have felt the need to clarify it later, and this small moment of damage control seemed to be a bit of message-sending to the Eagles’ fan base and to the players in Pederson’s locker room – including Foles.
Go back to Foles’ words from 2013 and understand their context. Being an NFL quarterback, especially one who is excelling and helping his team win games, is always incredibly difficult. But for Foles, it had never been as easy as it was then, and it has not been as easy since. Back then, Chip Kelly’s play-calling and up-tempo offense were still scheming receivers open and creating gaping holes for LeSean McCoy, and Foles was the primary beneficiary. When he dropped back, he could see DeSean Jackson running free and defensive backs with their tongues dragging. He could guard against doing too much because, in that system at that time, he didn’t have to do too much, and if he had a bad game – and he had a few – there was always a new opponent, unfamiliar with Kelly’s approach and unequipped to stop it, the following week. It must seem, in retrospect, a fever dream.
The circumstances are so, so different now. There’s much more pressure on the Eagles, as the conference’s No. 1 seed, and on Foles, as the caretaker of this opportunity, than there was then. And Foles appears to sense it. As revealing as Pederson’s answers Tuesday were, they weren’t as telling as Foles’ remarks after the Eagles’ regular-season finale against the Cowboys, when he used 11 iterations of the word “confident” to assure everyone that he was, indeed, confident. Such is the Eagles’ luck. In less than a month, they went from being, with Carson Wentz, the odds-on favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl to adding GET QB FEELING GOOD ABOUT HIMSELF to their to-do list before their first playoff game.
“Just finding and doing things that [Foles is] comfortable with helps in the confidence,” Pederson said. “Again, the run game, we get that back on track, and that’s going to help his confidence. Then, just getting the ball out of his hand where he’s not having to hold it a lot on first and second down. … We just have to get back to sort of those basics, those fundamental things that got us where we are now.”
So does their quarterback, if he can.
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