Foles stepping on the biggest stage of his life

Posted: December 30, 2013

IT KIND OF TAKES an understanding of the magnitude of high school football in Texas - think western Pennsylvania on steroids.

So it initially might have sounded a bit odd for Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, who has started 15 NFL games with the Eagles and two bowl games at Arizona, to list the 2006 Texas 5A Division I High School Championship as the highest-stakes game he has thus far played.

"The state championship in Texas was pretty high," Foles said of the game in which his Austin Westlake squad lost to Southlake Carroll. "That was a big game. You're playing with all of the guys you grew up with on a big-time stage [the Alamodome in San Antonio] against Southlake Carroll, which was the No. 1 high school team in the country.

"We ended up losing, but we played them well. It was with all of the guys I had grown up with, so it was a special time."

That game will drop to second on Foles' list tomorrow night when the Eagles (9-6) play at Dallas (8-7) in a regular-season-ending battle for the NFC East title.

On a final Sunday when numerous games have playoff implications, the Eagles-Cowboys showdown at AT&T Stadium is the one that was flexed to prime-time as the last game of the regular season.

The winner makes the NFC playoffs and gets to start on a trek that could lead to a Super Bowl. The loser goes home to play golf until the first minicamp of the 2014 season.

There are so many story lines concerning Foles and this game - most have been written over and over.

Obviously, he's a Texas quarterback returning home - well, 3 hours from home.

There is the fact that he is 0-2 in his young career as a starter against the Cowboys.

But the biggest bugaboo, the one that won't go away until Foles takes the field on Sunday night, is how incredibly poor he played when the Eagles played Dallas earlier this season in Philadelphia.

In a season of marvelous performances by Foles, that 11-for-29 for 80 yards with no touchdowns and a passer rating of 46.2 stands out as the inexplicable rotten egg in a field of roses.

The how and whys of that game are the black cloud in a season of silver linings for Foles.

Maybe if it wasn't Dallas then and Dallas tomorrow, it simply could be chalked up as one of those bad days that every quarterback, from journeymen starters to all-time greats, occasionally have during their NFL careers.

But it was the Cowboys then, and it is the Cowboys tomorrow.

"Everybody is going to try to find a story line," Foles said. "[The press] has to write stories. You guys enjoy writing. That's your passion. That's what you are good at.

"I understand that, but we've played a lot of football since that game. We've grown together as a team. I've grown as a player. Our coaches have grown.

"I understand [that story angle], but I sort of block that out. I'll watch that film again. I'll see what we did wrong, where I didn't execute, and how I can get better. Going into this game, I've got to be better."

In some people's mind, how the Eagles in general and Foles in particular perform in this high-stakes rematch will be the final determinant of whether this surprising season can truly be deemed a success.

Before the season, if you had said the Eagles, coming off a 4-12 season, and with a rookie head coach in Chip Kelly, would be 9-6, have a chance to win the NFC East in the final game, and possibly have found their quarterback of the future, virtually every Eagles fan would have signed up.

But now that it is here and the opponent is the Cowboys - the team for which this fan base has an almost unnatural disdain - the moment has consumed the big picture.

This is Foles' first big moment.

Despite some record-setting statistics; despite a 7-2 record this season as a starter; despite helping lead the Eagles from the abyss of a 3-5 start to a one-shot deal at the playoffs, a great deal of Foles' season will be measured by how he performs tomorrow night.

It comes with being a quarterback, and he knows it.

"It's very important to be considered a good quarterback on a big stage," Foles said. "Every game is a meaningful game, but, obviously, this game is bigger, because if we win, we keep playing.

"We want to keep playing. That's the goal here. In these games, you really have to execute. You have to sort of block out all of the other distractions, all the other feelings.

"You just have to go out there and play the game. I've got to really execute. I don't have to do anything crazy. I just have to take what they give us.

"We work all week based on their defense and what we've seen on film. It's really to just trust in that and play great team football, and then, at the end of the game, hopefully, we're in a great position."


Email: smallwj@phillynews.com

Columns: ph.ly/Smallwood

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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