We’ve heard a fair amount this week about that magical 2013 Nick Foles season, the 27 touchdowns with two interceptions, the astonishing seven-TD-pass day at Oakland.
Much less discussed has been what happened the next year, with Eagles fans expecting the 2.0 version of Foles and head coach Chip Kelly to be even better. It wasn’t. We didn’t really know it at the time, but Foles’ chance to become the team’s franchise quarterback ended on Nov. 2, 2014, in Houston, when Foles went down with a broken left collarbone in a 31-21 Eagles victory.
The Birds were 6-2 following that game, and there was hope that Foles could return for the playoffs. As it turned out, he could have — if the team, with Mark Sanchez at the helm, hadn’t lost three crucial games in a row down the stretch and managed to miss a postseason berth despite compiling a 10-6 record.
You could make a case that Foles, after a dreadful start to 2014 in which the Eagles won a bunch of games in spite of his mistakes, was starting to figure some things out when he got hurt. Had Foles remained healthy, he might have avoided being traded to the Rams for Sam Bradford the next spring, Kelly having decided Foles was not the ideal guy to run Kelly’s offense going forward.
In retrospect, it wasn’t just Foles who was different in 2014. His offensive line, solid and effective in 2013 when no starter missed a game, dissolved around him, with center Jason Kelce (sports hernia), left guard Evan Mathis (MCL sprain) and right tackle Lane Johnson (four-game suspension) missing chunks of the season.
Foles threw downfield a lot in 2013, which opened things up underneath. But when Kelly gave away DeSean Jackson before the 2014 season and didn’t replace him, plus with the line not giving Foles as much time to throw, the deep ball disappeared. Foles’ best play became dumping off to Darren Sproles.
If you want to feel a little nervous about Sunday’s visit with the 2-11 Giants, Foles hasn’t gotten any more nimble, and the Eagles’ offensive line again has issues. Left guard Stefen Wisniewski (ankle) was listed as a limited practice participant Thursday, and during the warm-up drills reporters were allowed to watch, Wisniewski was not moving well. Chance Warmack and Isaac Seumalo both tried to fill Wisniewski’s shoes after he left last Sunday’s win over the Rams; it was hard to say which of them struggled worse. Kelce also is dealing with an ankle issue that caused him to boot a trash can after being cleated in a drill Thursday. And of course, left tackle Jason Peters is gone for the duration.
The 2014 Eagles became the first team in NFL history to win its first three games after trailing by at least 10 points each time. Foles, so stingy with the turnovers in 2013, when his line functioned normally, fumbled and threw balls into crowds in bunches. The low point might have come in a 34-28 victory over the Rams, in which the Birds led 34-7 with two minutes, 15 seconds left in the third quarter, but Foles scrambled and tried awkwardly to down himself. He didn’t really slide, so he wasn’t officially down when he lost the ball and the Rams recovered, igniting a comeback that just barely fell short.
At Houston, Foles threw a pick-six, but he also lasered a 59-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Maclin. He was 9-for-12 for 124 yards, the touchdown, the pick and a 100.7 passer rating when he went down, following a sequence in which Whitney Mercilus sacked him twice in three plays, at the end of the first quarter.
Tight end Brent Celek, like a few other Eagles, protested that he “can’t remember that far back,” when Celek was asked about 2014, Foles and the game at Houston. (It’s amazing how much better recall they have of 2013.) But Celek added that he is “excited” to have Foles back in the starting role for the first time since that day.
“You just sort of see the game a little more clearly,” Foles said this week, when asked how he is different from the QB who trudged off the field in Houston. He said that perspective is the product of age and experience – he has doubled his time in the NFL, if not his number of actual snaps, since then.
“Even stepping into the game like [in Los Angeles], in the fourth quarter, you’re on the road, and it’s a big game. You really just go back to your training, back to your experiences in life, you know how to sort of live in that moment, to execute the plays to help your team win,” he said.
“Since that moment in Houston where I fractured my collarbone I’ve experienced a lot more experiences in the NFL than I had up to that point. A lot of them great, some of them not so great. But they all go together, they create this moment in time.”
Foles lost the Rams’ starting job to Case Keenum 11 games into the 2015 season, having completed 56.4 percent of his passes with seven touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. The 7-9 team didn’t have great weapons. He asked for and was granted his release in July 2016, after the Rams drafted Jared Goff. Foles then spent a season as a backup in Kansas City for Andy Reid, the coach who drafted him in 2012 with the Eagles, before returning here to Doug Pederson, his rookie-year QB coach.
“It’s repetition, it’s feel, it’s stepping up,” Foles said, when asked how he might have better pocket awareness than he showed under pressure in 2014. “A lot of it’s feel, a lot of it’s field work. [Quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo] does a lot of great stuff with us, field work-wise. Movement in the pocket, movement on the run.”
Foles said the 2014 Eagles — at least during the time he was healthy, maybe not the late-season version — reminded him of this year’s group.
“Twenty-thirteen was one of those surreal years. We were rolling. Twenty-fourteen, the games were a little closer, we had to grind ’em out. … I remember the first eight games, we had four we had to come back from 10-plus points in. But once again, we were able to,” Foles said. “We leaned on each other. There was no give-up. And this team has no give-up. That is huge.”