A game of flag football

Nick Foles completed 8 of 10 passes for 81 yards and a TD while working without his top wide receivers.
Nick Foles completed 8 of 10 passes for 81 yards and a TD while working without his top wide receivers.
Posted: August 16, 2014

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Talk about cutting the exhibition season in half and expanding the NFL's regular season by two games has all but died, but we think commissioner Roger Goodell is implementing a secret plan to get the conversation going again.

Apparently, his strategy is to flag the players union into submission. You'd have to be a masochist to vote against less exhibition football, especially the variety we've seen so far this summer.

Through these first two weeks, there have been more flags thrown by NFL officials than you'll find outside the United Nations headquarters in Manhattan. The officials insist it's just part of the mandate to enforce the league's emphasis on illegal conduct and defensive holding. They also contend that the flags won't fly nearly as often once the regular season arrives because the players will have adapted to the way things are being called. (Brandon Boykin, called twice for defensive holding, is clearly still in the adjustment period.)

With all the flags Friday night and the Eagles' defense starting the game as if it was playing flag football, the first quarter against the New England Patriots became a disjointed mess.

The greatest impact was on quarterback Nick Foles and the Eagles' offense because they just couldn't get on the field. In fact, Tom Brady's night was already over by the time Foles set foot on the Gillette Stadium turf. The Patriots quarterback had run two series and thrown the football 10 times.

Two of Brady's 10 passes went for touchdowns - the first one for the Eagles on a 77-yard interception return by Cary Williams and the other for the Patriots on a 15-yard pass to Kenbrell Thompkins.

Foles, coming off a poor performance in his preseason debut against the Chicago Bears, took his first snap with nearly 10 minutes gone in the first quarter. He completed a pass to 6-foot-7 Ifeayani Momah, who extended his long arms for a nice catch, but then fumbled the ball. It was recovered by the Patriots, and Foles was back on the bench.

At that point, it appeared as if this was going to be another maddening night for coach Chip Kelly and his fast-paced offense. Kelly, of course, has no time for the statistic that measures time of possession, but even he would have to agree that it's beneficial to have the ball more than eight seconds with the first quarter two-thirds over.

By the time Foles got on the field for his second offensive play, Patriots reserve quarterback Jimmy Garappolo had thrown twice as many passes as the Eagles quarterback, including a touchdown that gave New England a 14-7 lead.

The Eagles' second possession lasted four plays longer than the first, but it was equally as fruitless, ending with Foles being sacked for a 6-yard loss by Rob Ninkovich after LeSean McCoy had run three times for 3 yards.

The first quarter ended with the Eagles having run six plays for a total of 17 yards. That was an assurance that Foles and the first-team offense, minus injured starting receivers Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper, would be back for the second quarter.

Earlier in the week, after the first of the Eagles' three joint workouts with the Patriots, Foles talked about how much he had grown in the calendar year since the teams scrimmaged last August at the NovaCare Complex.

"Everything I do, I'm a little bit better, and I want to come out here every day and gain a little bit," the third-year quarterback said. "It is a continual thing. It's never going to stop as long as I play this game. I'm a lot different, but I still want to get better."

The lesson then for this Friday evening was perseverance.

On his final two possessions under center, Foles completed 6 of 8 passes for 63 yards. The first of those possessions ended with a missed 47-yard field goal by Alex Henery, but the second was capped by a 6-yard touchdown pass to tight end Zach Ertz.

That Foles will not have much preseason work with his starting receivers is not ideal, but also not the end of the world. That Foles was better in his second game than his first was encouraging.

There were comparisons made between Brady and Foles during this week, and they were silly because one is a guaranteed Hall of Famer with three Super Bowl rings and the other is a 25-year-old kid trying to prove his breakout 2013 season was not a fluke.

For the record, Brady and Foles each completed 8 of 10 passes for 81 yards and a touchdown. Brady, however, also threw an interception. Of course, completing passes could be easier than ever this season if the flags keep flying the way they have during the first two weeks of the preseason.

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