A YEAR AGO, maybe even a couple of months ago, Nick Foles could have played the game he played Sunday at Minnesota and reaped praise.
Thirty completions in 48 attempts, 428 yards, three touchdowns, one interception, a 103.5 passer rating? Big numbers.
But a couple of things have happened. One, offense has just gone nuts in the NFL of 2013. Everywhere you look, there are big numbers. Seven hundred sixty-three points were scored Sunday, more than any day ever in league history.
More tangibly, the bar has been raised for Foles. He still has only 14 career starts - less than a full season's worth of games - but after that NFC Offensive Player of the Month award, after 19 touchdown passes before the first 2013 interception, we're looking for greatness.
It was there in about a half-dozen plays Sunday, which only served to balance the half-dozen plays where either the decision-making or the aim was really, really poor. Foles was outplayed by Matt Cassel, which is not what you want to see happen to Chip Kelly's quarterback of the next millennium.
"I think Nick was inconsistent, compared to where he had been in the last five games," Kelly said yesterday. "That's something that we've got to get in the film room with him and see what he's seeing."
Foles said all the right things afterward, as he always does. But as time passes, if big mistakes are still being made, all that "this will make me better" talk will start to sound stale.
It will be interesting, if Foles gets the chance to be the man here, to see how his "voice" develops. For example, Sunday, he was asked about DeSean Jackson, who didn't try to tackle Shaun Prater after Prater picked off a Foles pass. Foles talked about frustration and passion and said he'd asked Jackson not to give up on him.
That's a good stance for a young QB in the making to take. I don't think it's what Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger or Tom Brady would say to a receiver who'd done that, though. Especially right after they'd thrown themselves in the path of a defensive lineman, while blocking for that same receiver on a double-reverse (and getting flagged for a personal foul in the process).
As Foles matures, he can still be a nice, humble, down-to-earth guy, but there's a point where, to lead the Eagles, he'll need to replace the pleas with demands, and back them up. It will be interesting to see whether he can make that transition, among all the other tough ones.
Developing story lines
* Wouldn't mind seeing more of Brad Smith, who went 14 yards with a screen pass and 47 yards with a kickoff return on his only two touches Sunday.
* Rewatching the game, I think the Eagles got the first down on the third- and fourth-and-1 plays when they were marked short. The third-and-1 absolutely was a bad spot.
* Twenty-nine of LeSean McCoy's 38 rushing yards came on two plays, a 16-yard run and a 13-yarder. His other six attempts netted 9 yards.
* The double-reverse for a touchdown on fourth-and-1 was a great call. It was unfortunate that Nick Foles attempted the cut block. The guy he was blocking wasn't catching DeSean Jackson.
* You guys, it's not such a big deal that Greg Jennings caught 11 passes for 163 yards against the Eagles, because the receivers the Birds are facing this week aren't very good. Brandon Marshall has only 90 catches for 1,185 yards, Alshon Jeffery 80 for 1,265, Martellus Bennett 59 for 659. A scant 22 touchdown catches among the three of them!
* Mychal Kendricks had a pick and a sack, and led the Eagles with five solo tackles, but he also was victimized on a key play. The Birds had pulled within 27-22. On the first drive of the fourth quarter, Kendricks had coverage on tight end Chase Ford, a member of the Eagles' practice squad a year ago who was playing for the Vikings only because two other guys were out. On third-and-14 from the Eagles' 42, Matt Cassel hit Ford over the middle. Kendricks went for the ball, missed, and Ford took off, 37 yards to the 5, setting up a Vikings TD that settled down a nervous Metrodome.
The Eagles could possibly lose on a day when Nick Foles (41 yards) outruns LeSean McCoy (38)?
Yeah, come to think of it, I did, too.
The Eagles had never had a 1,200-yard rusher and a 1,200-yard receiver in the same season. This year, thanks to LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson, they do.
What Sunday proved to me is that the Eagles' defense really needs for Nick Foles to be the team's franchise quarterback going forward.
After watching a calm, accurate quarterback pick apart a defense I'd been fooled into thinking was making steady progress, I'm pretty sure having to spend a high pick on a QB this spring would be a huge obstacle to improving that "D." Serious upgrading has to happen for the Eagles to move forward, into the realm of the true contenders.
This team needs an elite pass rusher and an elite corner, and depending on what you make of Earl Wolff's rookie year, it certainly could use another good safety. That's a lot of needs, and we haven't even gotten to the offensive side of the ball. There, it's probably time to draft a real good guard to have in the pipeline, and I'm pretty sure Chip Kelly envisions his offense employing a big, dynamic receiving threat, the kind of player you'd get if you could duct-tape Riley Cooper to DeSean Jackson. (There's a reality-show pitch ... Kelly's an offensive coach. It wouldn't be a shock if he decided his team needed that receiver more than, say, a corner.
There's a good chance free agency and the draft won't bring all of this in one offseason. If the Eagles' first or even their second pick is a QB, and especially if they have to trade up to draft a QB, there's very little chance these other pressing needs are addressed with impact players.
So, if I'm Bill Davis, I'm rooting hard for Foles.