Eagles' Foles has the quiet demeanor of a leader

YONG KIM/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Nick Foles throws one of his seven touchdown passes against the Raiders last season.
YONG KIM/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Nick Foles throws one of his seven touchdown passes against the Raiders last season.
Posted: September 05, 2014

MAYBE THERE will be a better Nick Foles signature moment somewhere along the line this season, or in some future season, if Foles turns out to be everything he seemed to be in leading the Eagles to the playoffs last year.

For now, though, this one will do just fine: It is last Nov. 3, somewhere deep within the crumbling innards of O.co Coliseum in Oakland. Foles has just thrown seven touchdown passes in a 49-20 rout of the Raiders. He is the third quarterback in NFL history to do this on the road, the second quarterback to do it for the Eagles, anywhere, a mere 59 years after Adrian Burk threw seven against Washington. The Pro Football Hall of Fame will put his jersey from this game on display.

Foles has spoken to a news conference in a tiny weight room in which curtains have been pulled in front of the barbell racks. Then he spent some time on the phone with Sports Illustrated's Peter King. Now, the last player out of the locker room, he slings his duffel bag strap over his shoulder and climbs a flight of stairs to a hallway where the Eagles' postgame food spread still sits. Foles takes a lingering look at the silver chafing dishes, then tells the Eagles spokesman walking with him (a couple reporters are trailing in their wake), that he'll wait and eat on the plane.

See, his teammates are already on the bus. Nick Foles wouldn't want to hold everybody up. On the day he has just thrown seven touchdown passes.

We still don't know that Foles, 25, will be the quarterback here long-term. It sure looks that way, after he threw for 27 touchdowns and just two interceptions last season in 10 starts, good enough to make the Pro Bowl as an alternate, but as you have probably heard, the Eagles' financial stake in him is still small. Foles, drafted in the third round in 2012, 88th overall, will make around $615,000 this year and cannot ask for a contract bump until after the season.

It's clear that Chip Kelly appreciates what he has in Foles, but it's also clear that the coach feels 10 starts isn't the same as 50, and if Foles somehow falls apart this season, well, Kelly didn't draft him and will not be reluctant to move on.

Some quarterbacks would not embrace this atmosphere, would be thinking about how thankful the team should be for what they just did. They would be telling you they have nothing left to prove to anyone.

The guy who just the other day said he doesn't think Foles is a franchise quarterback was exactly like that. Status, including that afforded by paycheck ranking, meant a lot to Donovan McNabb, and he did not want to hear anybody say anything other than that he was the Eagles' unquestioned starter. McNabb needed to know the organization had his back; later in his career, one of the reasons for his decline might have been that he couldn't accept that not being as much the case, was unsettled by the notion that he might have to fight for his job.

This week, somebody asked Foles about McNabb's comments - the Eagles' all-time leading passer, asked on an ESPN 97.5 radio show if Foles was a franchise quarterback, said, "I can't answer that, but if I had to give a take, I would say no. I think what he will do, he won't do what he did last year, that just won't happen. I see him being maybe a 25-touchdown, eight- 10 interception guy."

Then, after joking about Foles' lack of speed, McNabb noted: "With his size, he does a great job moving in the pocket and getting the ball out, getting it to his guys quickly."

So it wasn't a devastating rip, really, but a lot of nuance got edited out when McNabb's words were presented to Foles. No matter. Foles was asked if he had a reaction.

"No, I don't. Everybody's entitled to their opinion," he said. "I haven't earned anything; I haven't earned anything yet . . . It's a week-to-week thing. It always will be . . . maybe when I'm done with football, I'll look back" and be concerned with such things.

Earlier in the same media session, Foles was asked if he thinks he's Kelly's quarterback for the long haul now.

"I'm the quarterback for this game," Foles said, just as he used to say in 2013, before the Pro Bowl MVP award or the playoff berth. "That's the way I look at it. That's how it is. That's how this league works. I don't care, really, who you are . . . if you don't take care of business, somebody else will fill that spot."

Kelly was asked this week what he knows about Foles that he didn't know a year ago, when Foles was headed into the season opener as Michael Vick's backup. "You never knew what you had a year ago, just because he hadn't been in games, and [you] didn't get a chance to see him test it," Kelly said. "His ability to handle both praise and blame, I think, is an admirable quality for a quarterback to have.

"He's a hell of a competitor. He doesn't get frazzled very easily; nothing really bothers Nick. I think that's an outstanding quality . . . he's the same guy every single day when he comes out here, whether we played really, really well the week before, or we didn't play so well the week before."

Mark Sanchez came to the Eagles this spring from the Jets, not knowing much about the quarterback he was signed to back up.

Asked about Foles the other day, Sanchez - like everyone else interviewed for this story - first said, "He's the same guy every day." Then he said: "He can be a special player in this league . . . Outwardly, in the media, there's not much there . . . He's pretty unique" in his humility and down-to-earth nature.

As far as fame and fortune go, Sanchez said, "I think he just lets all that stuff handle itself . . . That deserves a lot of respect, because there's a lot of people who gripe about stuff like that, who read the paper, who want to know [what's being said about them]. It really doesn't matter [to Foles]. He just loves playing."

Left guard Evan Mathis has stood with his back to more than a few quarterbacks, playing for Carolina, Cincinnati, Miami and the Eagles.

"To be so even-keeled, it's a very strong trait to have in an athlete, especially one who's at the helm of your team," Mathis said of Foles. "He doesn't let anything go to his head. He's reserved. Humble, hard worker. He's a leader. He's a standup guy."

Mathis said the "even-keel" trait is something not all quarterbacks have. "Some let their emotions get the best of them. Nick is able to learn from a play immediately and put it behind him, whether it was good or bad."

A little over a year ago, Kelly had to tell Foles he'd lost a training camp competition to Vick, who had completed 13 of 15 passes in two preseason games and practiced nearly flawlessly. A lot of people felt at the time that given Vick's age (33) and injury history, Foles would get a shot at starting sooner or later, and that maybe on a rebuilding team, Foles - who had played well in the preseason, if not as well as Vick - would make more sense as a Game 1 starter. Kelly intimated to a group of reporters this summer that maybe he felt all along Foles was a better option going forward, but "you kind of lose your team if you turn around and say 'I'm gonna name this other guy, because I think he's better . . . even though [the first guy] played really, really well.' "

Kelly said that after getting that news, he knew a lot of quarterbacks in Foles' situation then would sulk, "but that wasn't going to make him a better player," so that wasn't what Foles did.

Kelly said that whether it was waiting for his turn behind Vick, or regrouping from a "just OK" first half in the playoff contest against the Saints, Foles' attitude always is, "Whenever the next opportunity comes, I'm going to take advantage of it."

The next opportunity arrives on Sunday.

On Twitter: @LesBowen

Blog: ph.ly/Eagletarian

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