Above all, Foles is steady

Chip Kelly talks to Nick Foles. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Chip Kelly talks to Nick Foles. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Posted: December 03, 2013

The football had left Nick Foles' hand and ended up in Patrick Peterson's grasp, and all of Lincoln Financial Field went silent for a heartbeat - about 69,000 people choking on their collective disbelief.

This was late in the fourth quarter of a game the Eagles seemed reluctant to finish off Sunday. They had led the Arizona Cardinals by 17 points, but they led by just three when Foles committed the one mistake he hadn't committed in this enchanted season of his. He finally had thrown an interception, and it was going to cost the Eagles a victory, and in that moment, everyone here knew it.

Except it didn't. After releasing the pass and taking a hit, Foles lay on the ground. He didn't see Peterson's interception or the holding penalty on Cardinals defensive back Tyrann Mathieu that nullified it - the penalty that allowed the Eagles to escape with a 24-21 win and preserved what lately has pretty much been a perfect stint of quarterback play by Foles.

He threw three more touchdown passes Sunday, giving Foles 19 this season, but against the finest and most ferocious defense he has faced so far, his greater accomplishment was that he wasn't responsible for any turnovers. He has gone 236 passes without being intercepted. He has fumbled once all season. And his clean stat sheet Sunday offered a striking contrast to that of the Cardinals' Carson Palmer, who lost a fumble and threw two interceptions.

So put aside the 125.2 passer rating - which would be the highest in NFL history if he sustains it - and the reality that if he throws one more touchdown pass, he will tie Peyton Manning's record for the most in a season without an interception.

For all the gaudy numbers, for all the heady company that Foles is keeping now, it's that reliability, the avoidance of the bad decision or the big mistake, that has been most impressive. It has become the quality that defines him as a quarterback, and it's what made his foolhardy choice on that voided interception Sunday - to throw a pass across his body and off his back foot - so surprising.

"Staying within the offense and not trying to get too fancy with it is the key," he said. "It just comes with learning. . . . I try to push it in practice, to test my boundaries to see what throws are capable on a certain defense. So it's through a lot of mistakes that I've learned that."

Some of this is chance, of course. Some of it is luck, like the Peterson play. Eagles wide receiver Jason Avant insisted after the game that Mathieu had tugged at his hip, had committed an obvious infraction, but it sure didn't look obvious in real time or on replay.

Some of it is his teammates' help: Late in the first half, Peterson appeared to have a bead on a deep Foles pass, but DeSean Jackson played the ball as if he was a defensive back and batted it away. But much of it is Foles - his cool head, his understanding of where and when to throw the football.

"Even on his misses, he's missing the right way," Avant said. "That's the key in protecting the football. He's missing long. He's not missing behind. That's usually a good sign. If the [defensive back is] over the top, he's missing short. . . . If you're a quarterback, you always want to miss opposite of the DB. That's what he's been doing a great job of."

What Avant described is a subtle trick of the trade between pass-throwers and pass-catchers, but it's a significant one, too. The Eagles all but stopped trying to score after their first drive of the third quarter, and they made this victory much harder than it needed to be. And yet, because Chip Kelly's system - call it the read-option, call it the spread, call it a good college offense, whatever - is creative and fast and maximizes his players' intelligence, Foles and the Eagles still generated 24 points without committing a turnover against one of the NFL's best defenses.

So maybe it's time to stop wondering whether Nick Foles is for real and simply accept and appreciate what he has done and continues to do. He carries out what his coach demands of him, and he doesn't screw it up, and from time to time, good fortune shines on him. Brilliant careers have been built on less.



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