LOS ANGELES – By now, the strange and wondrous serenity that comes over Nick Foles whenever he is on his sport’s biggest and brightest stages can’t be chalked up to mere coincidence. To watch him here Sunday night at the Coliseum in a game that the Eagles were never supposed to win, cutting the Rams’ defense apart in a stunning 30-23 victory, was to remember his breathtaking performances in the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl LII – and to wonder what it is about him that allows him to be at his best when the Eagles need him most.
Understand: What Foles pulled off Sunday – stepping in again for Carson Wentz, completing 24-of-31 passes for 273 yards, keeping the Eagles’ offense purring all night against arguably the best team in the NFC – was as close as he could come in a regular-season game to replicating those forever memories that he produced earlier this year. Somehow, without Wentz, without depth on the defensive line or much experience in the secondary, the Eagles thumped a Super Bowl favorite on its home field. Somehow, when a loss would have pushed the Eagles’ playoff chances to next to zero, Foles played better on five days’ notice than he did in their first two games this season, when he had an entire offseason to prepare. The Eagles are 7-7 now, and the playoffs are still possible, and Foles is a reason, maybe the reason.
That truth promises a week-long controversy ahead of the Eagles’ next game, this Sunday against the Houston Texans, over Wentz, Foles, and the Eagles’ future at the quarterback position. For now, though, there is no debate: Wentz has a stress fracture in his back, an injury that Eagles coach Doug Pederson said will require three months to heal. He should not play against the Texans. The ball is Foles’, and it should remain his as long as the Eagles can qualify for the playoffs. There is that much uncertainty around Wentz, and Foles was that good against the Rams.
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He made one damaging mistake, throwing an interception early in the fourth quarter as the Eagles were closing in on another score. But that was it. That was his lone blemish. The rest of the night, he was calm and accurate with his passes and tough as old leather. When you have a moment, go back and watch a replay of Foles’ 50-yard pass to Alshon Jeffery early in the third quarter, the completion that set up a go-ahead touchdown by running back Wendell Smallwood, only don’t let your eyes follow the flight of the ball. Keep them on Foles as he hangs in the pocket and heaves the ball downfield, as Rams defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh – 6 feet, 4 inches, and 313 pounds worth of awful intentions – crushes him. Foles gets up as if nothing had happened, as if Smallwood’s 9-yard touchdown on the next play were a mere formality.
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So where does that sense of peace that Foles seems to project come from? In the wake of the Super Bowl, he wrote an autobiography, Believe It, that was as much a testimony of his Christian faith as it was a narrative of his life. In a Bucks County bookstore in June, before he signed some 600 books for people who had been moved to joy and tears by the Eagles’ first championship since 1960, Foles was asked how he could remain relaxed enough to suggest “Philly Special” to Pederson in the Super Bowl, then catch Trey Burton’s pass as if he had no cares in the world.
“My prayer to God has never been ‘I want victory,’” he said that day. “I don’t pray like, ‘Hey, I want to catch this pass.’ That would be prosperity, and I don’t believe in that prosperity. That’s where I’ve grown closer to God. My prayer throughout the Super Bowl, when I kept talking to God, was that I would play with boldness and without fear, because fear doesn’t come from God. Boldness does.”
The mantra seemed to guide him once more Sunday. His willingness to throw deep to Jeffery, to give a former high school basketball star the opportunity to outjump the Rams’ defensive backs, opened up the Eagles’ entire offense. He took that hellacious hit from Suh and a couple of others to boot. And he did all this against the team that had released him after the 2015 season, causing Foles to consider retiring from the NFL before he decided he had more to give to and gain from the game.
“I definitely went through a lot then,” he said. “I think a lot of people wonder, ‘When the game’s over, how will I feel? How will I handle it?’ Because you do it for so long. I took that leap of faith and had to trust in God. ‘I can’t do this without you.’ Looking back on it, my perspective changed.”
Everything changed for Nick Foles from that moment on. He has been the best sports story that Philadelphia has seen in a long, long time, and after another magical night under the brightest lights, he has the chance to write a hell of a next chapter.