This is not last year’s playoff run, despite Nick Foles’ presence on the Jan. 14 Sports Illustrated cover, despite the obvious similarities between ski-masked underdogs and dog-masked underdogs.
Foles is not starting to feel as though he is back on the magical journey to Super Bowl LII, he said Wednesday. But, he eventually qualified that, identifying one important common ingredient.
“It’s a different year. It’s been a different situation, a different scenario. My mind doesn’t have enough energy to go there and think about all that, my mind has enough energy to just focus on the task at hand,” Foles said, as the Eagles began on-field preparations for Sunday’s divisional-round playoff game against the Saints, the NFC’s top seed, at New Orleans.
“If y’all analyze the season, it’s been a different kind of season, different team, but it’s a special group," he said. “That’s the thing that they both have in common,” that in both cases, leadership has been able "to really get people to care for one another.”
Last season, that bonding began early, with a last-second, Week 3 victory over the Giants. This season, with so many key players in and out of the lineup, it took longer. Foles identified the 48-7 blowout at New Orleans on Nov. 18, which left the Eagles reeling at 4-6, as the critical moment.
“When we look back, we learned a lot about ourselves then … . There was never once when we pointed a finger at one another. We continued to gain strength -- we continued to believe in one another and trust one another -- throughout that process,” said Foles, who stood helplessly on the sideline that day, then consoled Carson Wentz at length in the postgame locker room.
“Even in a game like that … our team stuck together, and I think that tells you a lot about the people that work here,” Foles said. “That game has helped us become the team we are today. Going through that, that’s not easy as a team, to lose like that … . It can separate a team, or it can bring a team closer, and it brought us closer.”
Zach Ertz agreed, correcting a questioner who called it the worst loss of the season. The tight end called it the worst loss of his career.
“A lot of guys reflected on how they were playing as individuals, how we could get better as individuals,” Ertz said. “I think when you’re able to self-reflect like that, the offense and the team as a whole, I think started playing better. Everyone was focused on the details, everyone was focused on being just a little better, each and every week, each and every day.”
Others might see a healthier Eagles team this week, one that will have Darren Sproles and Tim Jernigan, along with a full-strength Avonte Maddox and Lane Johnson, among others. Foles sees the difference more in terms of players who have bonded through adversity.
“It’s really about trust, it’s about relationships," he said. "Everyone wants to know the secret of a great team, and everyone wants to make it about rah-rah, and Xs and Os, and all that stuff. From my experience, it’s the team that has the best relationships, the team that trusts each other the most.
“My philosophy always is, in the fourth quarter, when the game’s on the line, when you trust the men next to you, you’re going to get it done more times than not, and I think this team’s a testament to that.
“It’s sort of putting your ego in check and just being a guy. No one here’s better than anyone else. We’re all just here together, trying to accomplish a common goal. But it’s definitely top-down, starting from Mr. [Jeffrey] Lurie, to Doug [Pederson], to Howie [Roseman], to all the players buying in … . If you’re in the locker room pregame or after the game, you see guys that genuinely care about everyone. When you’re around this facility, it’s everyone at the facility, not just the players.”
Until this run is over and wherever it ends, however, Foles will face questions about his future. Carson Wentz, from all indications, will be the Eagles’ quarterback when the 2019 season begins, and Foles will be working elsewhere. That strange circumstance lurks in the background, as Foles tries once again to do something no other Eagles quarterback has done – win the Super Bowl.
“I think Nick is a guy who is mature enough to understand, and present enough to understand, even if this is his last run in Philadelphia, why not go out with a bang?” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. He called Foles “a calming presence” in the locker room.
“The future, that’ll take care of itself," Foles said. "If I worried about that right now, I wouldn’t be able to really focus in and enjoy the present. I’m not worried about the future, but I understand where I stand, and every time I wear that jersey is special.
“We get one more week together, at least.”