Foles plays his steady game

Posted: December 31, 2013

ARLINGTON, Texas - Philadelphia had seen this before.

The new most important player on the team, in the first playoff game of his career, was nearly perfect. Roy Halladay's no-hitter against the Reds in the 2010 NL Division Series was first-time, big-game virtuosity at its height.

Now, they have seen it again.

Last night was, essentially, a playoff game for the Eagles. They needed a win at Dallas to make the playoffs. Dallas needed the same. It was the last game of the NFL regular season. The world watched in prime-time.

They saw Nick Foles do what Doc did.

He didn't have a perfect game, like Doc; no, that came in Oakland in November, when he threw seven touchdown passes with no interceptions. Doc's perfections came in the regular season, too.

He wasn't perfect. Just excellent.

In his second start in his home state, Foles fired his best passes, made his best decisions, led a bunch of upstarts into a postseason that, at the season's start, seemed at least one more season away.

The Eagles beat the Cowboys, 24-22, last night and returned to the postseason for the first time since 2010. They would be nowhere near this point without a second-year, third-round quarterback who led the league with a 115.6 passer rating.

Foles last night completed 17 of 26 passes for 263 yards and two touchdowns.

He was sacked five times, but, most important, last night: No interceptions.

That is what matters most for teams in contention: retaining possession.

Foles has thrown 317 passes this season.

Two have gone to bad guys.

It's not as if he never throws a bad ball.

He floated one duck in the first half last night that might have been intercepted, had the Cowboys defender been more interested in defending and not decapitating. Later, he pooched another that barely exited the back of the end zone.

He fumbled one possession away, too. On the play, he had Jason Avant open in the flat, and he didn't throw it. He was sacked, coughed it up and gave away three points.

That's OK. Even Doc missed a couple of pitches against the Reds. Shoot, he even walked a batter.

Fourth-and-goal at the 1 near the end of the third quarter, Foles didn't get the yard. Foles isn't a running back, and the Eagles proved 2 weeks before, in Minnesota, that they cannot get 1 yard when they have to have it.

Foles could do only so much.

He didn't call the laughable play three snaps before the sneak in which he, Foles, was the primary target for little-used wild-catter Brad Smith.

He didn't call the blitz that left safety Patrick Chung, the Eagles' worst defender, on receiver Dez Bryant, the Cowboys' best player; Bryant, of course, scored.

Foles only could do what was asked of him.

And he did so brilliantly.

Foles' four passes on the Eagles' first touchdown drive might have been his best of the season. Certainly, they were the best of any single drive.

He hit Ertz on the right sideline for 17 yards, a pass that arrived with plenty of zip. Foles stepped up and found Ertz again, three plays later, for 12 yards and a long third-down conversion across the middle.

Foles rolled out and found DeSean Jackson to erase a second-and-20 after a holding call. Facing second-and-9, Foles found himself nearly engulfed by Cowboys . . . but he managed to launch a pass off his back foot in the direction of Jason Avant, the team's toughest, smartest receiver. Foles knew that Avant, with single-coverage down the left sideline, would not allow the pass to be intercepted; and, if at all possible, Avant would catch it.

Avant caught it.

Avant's next catch was prettier for its precision; a third-and-8 conversion for 17 yards, between four defenders, with lovely touch.

Then Foles faked a handoff, dropped back an extra 5 yards, then lofted a mortar to Brent Celek across the field. It was a 35-yard gain, but the ball traveled 50 yards, and did so with perfect arc and pace and distance.

He nailed Riley Cooper for 19 yards, the key second-and-10 play in the third TD drive that made it an eight-point lead.

In the second half, the Cowboys rushed four, dropped seven into coverage and kept a close eye on LeSean McCoy. Suddenly, no one was wide open any more, and Foles' mandate was to play to not lose.

Whether it was issued by his coaches or by himself, that was what he did.

That, generally, wins games against teams that start Kyle Orton, mothballed for 2 years.

Even when Foles didn't throw, he did the right thing. He threw into the ground three times; the second was called intentional grounding, and it was, but his head was in the right place. His slide on third-and-long late in the fourth quarter devoured 5 seconds that, in a two-point game, could have meant everything.

Almost as much as Foles meant to the Eagles this season.


On Twitter: @inkstainedretch

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

hayesm@phillynews.com

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