Good morning, and Nick Foles made sure it is one in Philadelphia with an unforgettable performance in the Eagles' 32-30 win over the Houston Texans. Doug Pederson has a noon news conference today and then the team will enjoy Christmas Eve and Christmas before returning to work to prepare for Sunday’s must-win game against Washington. (That game was moved to 4:25 p.m.)
This is a Monday edition of the Early Birds newsletter. There will be no newsletter on Christmas, but we’ll resume on Wednesday. Have a wonderful holiday.
— Zach Berman
It sunk in when Nick Foles waved to the crowd while heading into the tunnel following the Eagles’ dramatic 32-30 win over the Houston Texans on Sunday that this was a different game for Foles. And it was a different game for the Eagles, too.
Because this not the same Eagles team from October and November. Maybe Foles is the difference, maybe younger players have matured, or maybe the team was humbled after underachieving to start to the season. But the Eagles lost this type of game against Tennessee and Carolina. They had an unfulfilled final drive against Dallas earlier this season.
Yet on Sunday, when the Eagles coughed up a fourth-quarter lead, the offense responded. Foles added to his legacy in Philadelphia, set a franchise record for passing yards, and gave the home crowd a lasting memory in what will likely be his final home game. (For more, check out Jeff McLane’s story.) It was a game that will long be remembered – a big win against a playoff team in dramatic fashion – and deep down, the mild-mannered Foles realized the significance of the afternoon.
“I knew there was a chance this could be it,” Foles said.
The Eagles simply couldn’t lose. The season would be over if they did. Now, they’ve ensured a meaningful Week 17 game against Washington. And if Minnesota loses to Chicago, the Eagles can secure a wild-card bid. That part is out of their hands, but a team that was 4-6 and 6-7 didn’t cash in their chips. They say they don’t quit, and it’s not a cliche.
The reason why I bring up those earlier losses is not only to illustrate how the Eagles have changed this season, but also to show why they’re in the situation they’re in entering Week 17. It’s impressive that the Eagles have worked their way into playoff contention again, although the reason they need a win and help is because they let too many games go earlier this season. The Eagles very well could beat Washington, win six of their final seven games, yet miss out on the playoffs. And the shame about that is that they’re peaking at the right time.
So how much of it is Foles? There’s no ignoring how well he’s playing and how the team has rallied around him. The Eagles have topped 30 points in two consecutive weeks – both victories over playoff teams. They only topped 30 points once in the previous 13 games. (Of course, Foles started two of those games, too.) But the way he’s giving his skill players chances on 50-50 balls is something this offense needs. And his teammates believe in him. Why wouldn’t they? As they’ll remind you, he’s the Super Bowl MVP – and he has a presence that his teammates appreciate, too.
“It’s Christmas. It’s Saint Nick,” said defensive end Chris Long, who built a shrine for Foles. “You know [Foles] is going to put together a drive.”
Because the debate is taking place – I still don’t believe Foles is the better long-term quarterback for the Eagles than Carson Wentz, but I also don’t think this must be viewed as Foles vs. Wentz. It’s possible to appreciate what Foles is doing without making this an indictment of Wentz. Wentz must get healthy, he must play better than he did at times this season, and Foles has captured a magic in Philadelphia. But it shouldn’t change the way the Eagles view the quarterback situation long-term (and from what I understand, it hasn’t).
What’s happening is more than Foles. Those around him are making plays. The defense forced a critical turnover, taking out the ski mask that wouldn’t have been awarded had they utilized that gimmick earlier in the year. Doug Pederson is calling a better game. I liked his aggressiveness on Sunday, too.
No matter what happens next week, what’s happened during the past five weeks (and past two weeks, in particular) is remarkable. The Eagles are among the hottest teams in the NFL, they’re winning tough games, and they’re peaking at the right time. It might be too late. If they can sneak in, though, nobody is going to want to play them. Sunday will be interesting. Considering where the Eagles were, that’s an accomplishment.
The answer is not likely. The only way I see it happening is if something happens with Carson Wentz’s injury that would put his availability to play next season in question. But I don’t anticipate that. Foles would be too expensive, and frankly, it makes more sense for him to try to find a situation in which he can be the top quarterback. The Eagles are committed to Wentz. I don’t see that changing.
Yes, I would assume so. The Bears still have a chance at the No. 2 seed. If the Bears beat the Vikings and Rams lose to the 49ers, the Bears would get a first-round bye. That’s a reason for the Bears play their starters and try to win the game. The NFL made the relevant NFC games all at 4:25 p.m., so at least to begin the game, the Bears will be motivated to win. However, if the Rams jump to an early lead, perhaps the Bears find out and start taking key players out of the game.