Foles the answer, at least for now

Posted: January 07, 2014

FOR ME, the bottom line on Nick Foles going into this offseason consists of two scenarios from Saturday night's 26-24 wild-card playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints.

The first came with the Eagles trailing 20-7 in the third quarter and desperately needing to get something going. Foles rolled right under pressure. Just as he got to the sideline, he lofted a ball downfield that DeSean Jackson caught for a 40-yard gain, setting up the touchdown that got the Eagles back in the game. It was a big-time play, and a throw not really in Foles' comfort zone.

The other relevant scenario came when Foles, red-eyed, took the podium after the game.

"I'm proud of my teammates. I'm proud of the crowd today . . . I'm proud of the city of Philadelphia, for this season . . . It's tough to lose, and it hurts," Foles said. "I'm hurting inside right now in my heart, but I'm going to keep my head held high because I love my teammates, I love this city, I love this team, and I love this organization because I know the heart of it. The heart of it is the heart of Philadelphia. Like coach Kelly said, we fight, and we're going to keep fighting."

That was pretty much what you want your second-year quarterback saying there, the tone a leader of a young team sets. It was easy to grasp why a big chunk of the fan base has fervently committed to No. 9.

Foles completed 23 of 33 passes for 195 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions, and a 105.0 passer rating in his NFL playoff debut. He was sacked twice. Once it was because he held onto the ball for more than 7 seconds, costing the team valuable yardage just before Alex Henery missed a 48-yard field goal attempt. Foles missed Jackson on a couple of throws, and probably could have tried to get the ball to No. 10 a few more times, earlier than he did. He took an intentional-grounding penalty.

On the other hand, the Saints' future Hall of Fame quarterback, Drew Brees, threw two first-half interceptions that weren't even close to receivers. Had Foles flung those balls, it would have been because he wasn't ready for playoff pressure, or wasn't really as good as he looked down the stretch in the regular season.

The point here would be, absolutely perfect quarterbacking is hard to come by. If your QB is Brees, and he has thrown for 5,000 yards in a season four times and won a Super Bowl, you rarely worry whether you've got the guy you need at QB, regardless of what happens. If your QB is a lead-footed 2012 third-round pick from Arizona with all of 16 career regular-season starts in his ledger, the scrutiny is greater.

As usual in these moments, I would love to know what Chip Kelly thought when he examined the film yesterday. Did he think his running game would have worked better if the Saints had needed to account for a more mobile quarterback? Did he see the inability to get the ball to Jackson as a crucial Foles problem, a problem with Kelly's calls, a problem with Jackson's route-running, or some sort of combination? Overall, did he think his offense would have scored more than 24 points with a different quarterback?

These are questions pending for today's autopsy of the season. Kelly is scheduled to speak with reporters at 12:45 p.m., and what he says about Foles will be endlessly scrutinized.

"I didn't sense any of that from him, personally," Kelly said after the game when asked if he'd thought Foles came out tight. "I think there's some plays everybody wants back, but I didn't sense that there was anything from him on the sideline, that he was affected by the moment."

Asked about Foles' struggles here and there with getting the ball out, Kelly did not offer a particularly stirring defense.

"Yeah, I just think we didn't play well enough to win, and that's on all of us," Kelly said. "I've got to put him in better position calling plays, and I think that's something that all of us when we go out of here, there will be a lot of plays, as a play-caller and as a person executing them you're going to probably all want back."

"I think he was seeing the field well," said offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, who highlighted the Eagles' 3-for-12 third-down performance as a major culprit in the loss. "I thought he executed well . . . it just took us a little while to get it going and score the points."

It would be a huge upset at this point if Foles didn't start the 2014 season as the Eagles' quarterback. He led the NFL is passer rating (119.2), yards per pass attempt (9.1) and touchdown rate per pass attempt (8.5 percent). He threw seven touchdown passes on a wondrous November afternoon in Oakland. He was very good at Dallas in the game that got the Eagles into the playoffs. His passer rating dipped under 100 once in his final nine starts of the season, including Saturday.

Kelly's Oregon quarterback, Marcus Mariota, is staying in school, as are some other signal-callers who might fit what Kelly does, including Ohio State's Braxton Miller and UCLA's Brett Hundley. The Eagles, scheduled to draft in the low 20s in the first round, are unlikely to use that pick on a QB. But are they just as unlikely to not go in that direction in the second, third and fourth rounds, with Michael Vick slated to leave in free agency? Is 2014 going to be a referendum on Foles as Kelly's long-term quarterback? Or is the coach already sold, and just doesn't go around tossing bouquets?

Team chairman Jeffrey Lurie might have offered a hint Saturday night, when he was asked whether he thinks he's found a franchise QB in Foles.

"I don't want to comment on any player, but how can you not be impressed with Nick, with everything he has accomplished, including tonight?" Lurie asked. "He had no turnovers and led us back from 20-7. He is incredibly impressive."


On Twitter: @LesBowen

Blog: ph.ly/Eagletarian

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