The apprenticeship of Nick Foles has come to an end.
The Eagles quarterback played brilliantly after head coach Chip Kelly installed him as his starting quarterback last year, torching defenses for 27 touchdowns and two interceptions as the Eagles won the NFC East and gave signs that they would become a dominating team because of the sensational offense they played.
But something didn’t add up. Foles had a solid pedigree at Arizona and many thought the Eagles had made a wise choice when they took him in the third round of the 2012 draft. Foles had the size and strength at 6-foot-5 and 242 pounds to stand in the pocket, absorb a hit and still make a play, but there were questions about his overall play.
Arm strength, accuracy, and his release were all good but not great characteristics for him. He might have a chance to be a good backup or a decent starter, but greatness did not appear to be on the horizon.
However, once he got the chance to work with Kelly, he showed improvement. He was given the opportunity to play over veteran Michael Vick, and he was nearly perfect.
That’s not a word that goes with any position in the NFL, especially at quarterback. Good players often have great years and exceed expectations, but everyone finds their level eventually. Foles couldn’t possibly repeat the success he had last year in 2014, could he?
Through five games this year, Foles has played a lot more like the good quarterback he is and not the dynamic superstar he gave indications of becoming last year. He is completing 59.1 percent of his passes for 1,380 yards with eight touchdowns and five interceptions.
He has struggled on a couple of occasions this year, none more so than against the San Francisco 49ers in Week Four. That’s the only loss the Eagles have suffered this season, and the Niner defense pressured Foles throughout the game. He completed 21-of-43 passes for 195 yards and he threw two interceptions. He didn’t get the ball in the endzone once.
He rebounded with a decent game against St. Louis on Sunday, but it was far from overwhelming. The Eagles nearly gave all of a 27-point lead away in the fourth quarter, and Foles seemed helpless to do anything about it.
The Eagles needed some leadership, a quarterback who would keep the game from slipping away by demanding a little more from his teammates, and they got none of that from Foles. He fumbled the ball away in the fourth quarter, and the Rams responded with two quick touchdowns.
Where was Foles? He seemed to be too timid to stand up on the sidelines and do something, anything that would stem the tide.
The Eagles escaped with the win thanks to a late interception, but now they face a major test when the resurgent Giants come to Lincoln Financial Field.
A few weeks ago, Eli Manning of the Giants was under the gun, as he had all but run out of the good will he had garnered in leading New York to two Super Bowl triumphs after the 2007 and 2011 seasons.
Just as he had reached his nadir in an offense that looked miserable, the Giants have won three in a row and Manning has played like a champion. Yes, he had a four-TD game against the Redskins that looked great on the stat sheet, but it’s more than that.
He had been criticized for two-plus years, but he never stopped believing in himself. He has been through the gauntlet and he appears to have come through intact.
He will go into Philadelphia with momentum and feeling good about himself, having demonstrated the mental toughness that all truly great NFL quarterbacks have to show at various points in their careers.
Foles is at one of those moments right now. Maybe not the defining moment of his career, but an important one for him and his teammates.
Last year doesn’t matter any longer, other than the fact that Foles’ performance set a very high standard for him. If he doesn’t come through in the important games against divisional opponents who want to take first place – or at least get a piece of the lead – Foles will simply be just another guy.
That’s not a formula that works in Philadelphia. Eagles fans will be sure to let him know if he’s going to settle for ordinary, up-and-down or any other mediocre description.
He gets a chance to avoid that fate Sunday night.
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