CHICAGO — It’s a simple play. There are only two reads, and if the first read is covered, there’s usually little time to go to the second.
But Nick Foles looked only to his first route, even though he and Golden Tate had practiced the play only “once or twice.”
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“I read body language,” Foles said. “It comes down to trusting your guy to get open. And [Tate] came out big tonight.”
It wasn’t as sexy as “Philly Special,” its name remains unknown — for the time being — but the sprint-out touchdown pass that Foles threw to Tate in the Eagles’ 16-15 wild-card comeback victory over the Bears Sunday will have its place in franchise history.
Fourth down. Ball on the 2-yard line. One minute, 1 second left. Eagles trail, 15-10. Doug Pederson called a timeout and Foles ran to the sideline. The two huddled and went over their options.
“I figured from studying [the Bears], in those situations, when the game is on the line, they like to blitz and bring a lot of pressure,” Foles said. “So why don’t we move the pocket and put one of our best guys on of their guys and let him win? Doug and I discussed it, and he was all for it.”
Six years ago, Foles had faced a similar scenario. The stakes were much smaller. The Eagles were mired deep into a losing streak when they traveled to face the Buccaneers. But they had the ball on the 1-yard line with 2 seconds left and wanted to win for the soon-to-be-fired Andy Reid.
Foles ran to the sideline and suggested a similar sprint-out play, and Reid agreed. He rolled right and hit Jeremy Maclin for the touchdown and the Eagles had the walk-off victory.
Sunday’s game-winning was “similar but different,” Foles said. And he didn’t call his shot this time, per Pederson.
“It was still part of the game plan,” Pederson said. “We had a feeling that [defensive coordinator Vic] Fangio, he’s a zero blitz guy when you kind of got to have it, and felt like it was the best thing to do was get [Foles] on the move.”
The sprint-out was part of the Eagles’ first two plays after Alshon Jeffery had caught an 11-yard third down pass to the Bears 2. The calls were runs, but if Foles didn’t like the Bears’ defensive look, he had an option to check to the pass.
But each time, he handed off to running back Darren Sproles.
“The look that they gave us was the look that we wanted for the run,” Foles said. “It wasn’t the ‘kill’ look.”
Nevertheless, the Bears stopped Sproles each time for no gain.
“Credit to the Bears,” Pederson said. “They came off the edge with the outside backer [Khalil Mack] there and tackled us.”
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On third down, Foles dropped and threw again to Jeffery, who had already caught a team-high six passes for 82 yards. But Chicago cornerback Kyle Fuller had tight coverage and he broke up the pass.
But on fourth down, when Foles ran back into the huddle, the call was simply for the sprint-out. Tackle Lane Johnson said there was little doubt — at least to him it seemed that way — in the quarterback’s voice as he called the play.
“It’s always important to be genuinely that way,” Foles said. “They can see through it if you’re faking it.”
Nelson Agholor, Tate, and Jeffery were lined up to Foles' right, with Agholor in-line, Tate in the slot and Jeffery outside. Tate was matched up vs. slot cornerback Sherrick McManis. His job was to beat him to the pylon.
“Just try to set up the nickel and sprint to the goal line as fast as I possibly can,” Tate said, “and just trust that Nick is going to make a great pass.”
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The blockers had to give Foles just enough time — he needed less than 2 seconds — to get the ball out. They had protected for most of the evening. Foles was sacked only once. Tight end Zach Ertz had Mack off the left edge.
“Just hold up long enough so he didn’t get a hit on Nick,” Ertz said. “It’s not an easy block.”
Ertz did enough, and Mack was late. Left tackle Jason Peters had a blitzing linebacker. Left guard Isaac Seumalo and center Jason Kelce had the interior linemen. Right guard Brandon Brooks was supposed to have the three-technique defensive tackle, but he slid toward Kelce.
“We were all going out to the right,” Brooks said. “So once the ‘three’ went underneath, the backer came, and I was sitting there for the backer.”
Johnson at right tackle had linebacker Leonard Floyd, but he ran wide toward Sproles, who missed him. But the running back did enough that Floyd sidestepped outside, and by the time he got to Foles, the ball was out.
Jeffery, the second read, ran a corner, and Agohlor ran a post. Tate, meanwhile, drifted right and then had a step inside on McManis.
“He really did a great job of selling his route, hesitation, and getting out,” Foles said. “He’s got great hands, as you can see.”
The pass was thrown toward Tate’s helmet. He secured it, pulled it in, and, before McManis wrestled him out of bounds, he got both feet.
“All I heard was the crowd go silent,” Johnson said.
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