Foles has a score to settle
Eagles QB Nick Foles had a clunker against Dallas in October, but can put that behind for good with a big effort next Sunday.
The last time Nick Foles faced the Cowboys, he played so poorly that people were convinced he was suffering from a concussion or malaria or maybe had unknowingly taken a hallucinogen.
He had replaced injured Michael Vick two weeks before and put together six near-perfect quarters in wins over the Giants (16-for-25, 197 yards, 197 yards, 2 TDs, no interceptions, 114.9 passer rating) and Bucs (22-for-31, 296 yards, 3 TDs, no interceptions, 133.3 rating).
While Chip Kelly never acknowledged it, the assumption was that if the second-year quarterback turned in a third straight solid effort against the Cowboys, he would retain the starting job even after Vick's injured hamstring healed.
But Foles didn't turn in another solid effort. He went out and stunk up the joint against a Cowboys defense that entered the game ranked 30th in the league in yards allowed, 24th in opponent completion percentage and 25th in opponent passer rating.
A kid who had shown so much poise in six starts as a rookie and again this year against the Giants and Bucs, looked like a deer in headlights that October afternoon at the Linc. His decision-making was horrible. His mechanics were a high-school mess. He had open receivers, but often seemed afraid to pull the trigger.
Even though he has vehemently denied it, there still are people who are convinced he was concussed that day.
He completed just 11 of 29 passes for 80 yards before suffering a real concussion early in the fourth quarter of what would be a 17-3 loss.
Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin didn't do anything particularly innovative that day to derail Foles and the Eagles. He brought a safety down in the box to help shut down LeSean McCoy, which just about everybody else has done against them. And he played mostly man coverage, putting cornerback Brandon Carr on DeSean Jackson. But nearly everybody has done that as well.
That's the same Brandon Carr who got his butt handed to him Sunday by the Redskins' Pierre Garcon for 11 catches,144 yards and touchdown. That day, Carr "held'' Jackson to three catches for 21 yards. I put the quotation marks are around the word held because Jackson actually got open several times in that game, but Foles failed to get the ball to him.
Foles has since washed the bad taste of that clunker of a game out of his mouth. Vick reinjured his hamstring the next week in a 15-7 loss to the Giants that dropped the Eagles to 3-5, Foles became the starter again a week later and led the Eagles to five straight wins that put them back into the playoff hunt.
He went into Sunday's game against the Bears with an NFL-best 117.0 passer rating, 23 touchdown passes and just 2 interceptions in 266 attempts. Had another outstanding game, completing 21 of 25 passes for 230 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in a 54-11 Eagles win.
But there still is a score to settle with the Cowboys. Whether you want to believe they stopped him that miserable October day or whether you want to believe, as he does, that he stopped himself, there is a score to settle.
And could there really be a better scenario for him to get his redemption than in the House That Jerry Built on the last day of the regular-season in a game that will decide the NFC East title?
"You can't let one game defeat you,'' Foles said of that first Cowboys game. "If I know anything about myself, I know I'm going to keep fighting. If I know anything about this team, it's they're going to keep fighting, too.
"You learn from mistakes in games. You learn from games like that. And you move forward. We stayed together as a team. We've grown every week. But we still have a lot of work to do. We're going to look at this film in a critical way to see where where we can improve. To see if I can make better decisions to put us in better position.''
He's not going to find much wrong with his performance or the offense's performance Sunday. The Eagles amassed 514 net yards, their second highest output of the season (they had 542 against the Raiders). Their 28 first downs equaled their season high.
If they can duplicate this performance against the Cowboys' injury-ravaged defense Sunday night, the Eagles likely will be going to the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
Foles had just four incompletions against the Bears and three of them were throwaways. His 84.0 completion percentage was the highest ever by an Eagles quarterback. His 131.7 passer rating was his eighth 100-plus rating of the season and his fourth over 130.
A week earlier, he threw for a career-high 428 yards in the Eagles' 48-30 loss to the Vikings. But he wasn't particularly sharp in that game. Missed on a lot of throws, including his second interception of the season.
But against the Bears, he was on fire. Led the Eagles to touchdowns on their first three possessions.
He rolled to his right and hit Riley Cooper for a five-yard touchdown on the Eagles' first possession. It was just the fourth time in 15 games this season that the Eagles scored on their first possession.
He threw his second TD later in the first quarter, finding tight end Brent Celek on another throw off a rollout. Who said this guy can't run?
"The defense did a great job of giving us great field position,'' Foles said. "When you can start the game with 21 points on your first three possessions, that allows the defense to do more. Attack with different blitzes and things. They put pressure on Jay [Cutler] all day.''
Foles now has 25 touchdown passes and just two interceptions in 291 attempts this season.
The doubt after the first Cowboys game that he can be the Eagles' starting quarterback for the next 10 years is gone, no matter what happens Sunday in Dallas.
But it sure would help ease the minds of Eagles fans if he goes down there and gets his redemption and leads a team that won four games last season to a division title.
"I'm just excited to be playing another game,'' Foles said. "I'm just excited to be going down to Dallas and playing them. It's a big game. I know what's on the line. Everybody knows what's on the line. I'm excited for the opportunity.''
DID YOU NOTICE?
** The Eagles, who received a lot of grief last week for not kicking to the Vikings' Cordarrelle Patterson, didn't do the same against Devin Hester. Both of Alex Henery's first two kickoffs to Hester were deep. The Eagles held him to 18 yards on his first return and forced a fumble that set up a touchdown on his second.
** The Eagles used multiple tight end sets on 16 of their first 21 offensive plays, which included their first three touchdown drives. They had all three of their tight ends in the game on Nick Foles' 5-yard touchdown pass to Riley Cooper. They used a two-tight end set on LeSean McCoy's 1-yard touchdown run, and a two-tight end set on Foles' 10-yard touchdown pass to tight end Brent Celek. In fact, the other tight end in the game, Zach Ertz, picked off a linebacker who was covering Celek, leaving Celek wide open.
** With about 3 minutes left in the first quarter, the fans started a "Dallas sucks" chant.
** The two nice pass breakups by safety Earl Wolff and cornerback Cary Williams on second-quarter passes to Brandon Marshall.
** Matt Forte is considered one of the league's top blocking running backs. But he got beat by Trent Cole for a sack in the first quarter and for another by Mychal Kendricks in the second quarter.
** Brad Smith was the Eagles' kickoff returner.
BY THE NUMBERS
**Nick Foles' .840 completion percentagewas the highest ever by an Eagles quarterback.
**LeSean McCoy had two more rushingtouchdowns Sunday, bringing his season total to nine. Both of his scoresagainst the Bears came on one-yard runs. Five of his nine rushing TDs have comeon one-yard runs.
**Twenty-one of the Eagles' 49 touchdowndrives this season have been four plays or less. Just seven have been nineplays or more, including a 10-play, 52-yard drive against the Bears. Just 13 ofthe Eagles' 49 TD drives have lasted three minutes or longer.
**Brent Celek's third-quarter fumble was onlythe Eagles' fourth lost fumble in the last 12 games.
**DeSean Jackson had just 29 receivingyards on four catches. That's his second lowest receiving-yard total of theseason (he had 21 against the Cowboys).
**The Eagles have given up just two touchdownpasses to tight ends this season. Bears tight end Martellus Bennett had fivecatches for 85 yards, but no touchdowns.
** Donnie Jones broke the Eagles' franchise record for punts inside the 20 with his 32nd in the third quarter. Jeff Feagles put 31 inside the 20 in 1993.
** Trent Cole notched his third multi-sack game in the last five games. Cole has seven sacks in the last five games. He had one in the first 10 games.
** The Bears converted three of four third downs of 7 yards or more in the first half. In the previous three games, opponents had converted eight of 20 third downs of 7 yards or more against the Eagles.
** The Eagles scored on their first possession for just the fourth time this season.
** For the 10th straight game, the Eagles didn't allow a score by their opponent on their first possession. The Bears went three-and-out on their first possession.
On Twitter: @Pdomo