The last time Nick Foles started for the Eagles against the Oakland Raiders — which was two NFL stops and at least one football lifetime ago for Foles — he came back from a week off because of a concussion and tied a league record by throwing seven touchdown passes.
To say it was an unexpected day for a quarterback whose arm had been doubted would be an understatement. After the game, someone asked Oakland safety Charles Woodson, who was in his 16th season and had experienced a few things, if he had seen anything on film that might indicate such a day was possible for Foles.
"I don't think Nick Foles had seen anything on film that would give him any indication that he'd throw for seven touchdowns," Woodson said.
Nevertheless, it happened in Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on a beautiful November day in 2013, and gave new flight to the idea that Foles would be the quarterback the next time the Eagles made it all the way to the Super Bowl.1
"I look back at that day as the day we put everything together, sort of that 'a-ha' moment where, 'We can do this, we know who we are, we can be explosive.' And we sort of took off from that point," Foles said as the Eagles prepared for their next game against the Raiders, which will take place Monday night at Lincoln Financial Field.
It's funny how things have worked out — or have to this point, anyway. That first season under Chip Kelly totaled 10 wins, including eight with Foles as the starter, but it fizzled quickly in the playoffs and the mojo on display that day in Oakland was never recaptured. Foles got injured in 2014, then was traded away, and came back only as a piece of the past to stand next to the quarterback of the future.
But here we are, with Foles as the starter against Oakland again, and the Eagles one victory away from matching their highest regular-season win total of 13. That was set in 2004 with another 28-year-old quarterback playing in his sixth NFL season. Maybe Foles isn't Donovan McNabb and maybe he isn't Carson Wentz, but he is Nick Foles and perhaps he was fated to be the next Eagles quarterback to reach the Super Bowl. Just not the way people figured back in 2013.
"He's got a set of cleats in the Hall of Fame," center Jason Kelce said. "He's been pretty darn good in Philadelphia before."
Canton did request the cleats Foles wore when he equaled the touchdown record held by six other quarterbacks, and that's nice, but the Hall of Fame is like a Roomba that bumps across the country collecting stuff somewhat indiscriminately.2 There's a Doug Pederson jersey in the Hall, too, for the afternoon in Veterans Stadium when the third-stringer was pushed into duty because of two injuries and finished the game in which Don Shula broke the career coaching win record held by George Halas.3
In the same vein, offensive coordinator Frank Reich punctuated his belief in the new starter by reminding people that Foles had been MVP of the Pro Bowl, failing to mention that Mark Brunell, Matt Schaub, and Marc Bulger also hold that honor.
Fortunately, it's not about what has transpired before, which has been mostly good for Nick Foles and his 21-16 record as an NFL starter. It's about what comes next. Fate put him in the record book once, and could have put him in all by himself if Kelly hadn't yanked Foles for the final 12 minutes of the Oakland game.4
This time, fate gave Foles a shortcut. He didn't have to get the Eagles in this position. He just has to finish the job.
Foles has been in a situation before in which people wanted him to be more than who he is. After throwing for those seven touchdowns, he was asked if a performance like that qualified him for consideration as an elite level NFL quarterback.
"I think it just makes me the quarterback who won the game today," he said. "We'll just see what happens."
What happened since could not have been predicted. Foles and his career sparked and sputtered, sparked and sputtered, and now it can spark again. He never threw seven touchdowns in a game again, of course. In fact, he never threw more than three — until last Sunday against the Giants when he had four touchdown passes, his second-most productive day in the league.
Everyone remembers the first, but it turns out that the second might have come in a season that will be even more interesting.
1. At the time, the stadium was officially known as O.co Coliseum, although exactly why is lost to time.
2. The others to throw for seven TDs in a game were Sid Luckman, Adrian Burk (Eagles), Y.A. Tittle, Joe Kapp, George Blanda and Peyton Manning. Somewhat weirdly, Burk, who achieved the feat in 1954, went on to become an NFL referee and officiated the 1969 game in which Kapp tied the record.
3. With Dan Marino already unavailable, Pederson entered the game in the third quarter after Scott Mitchell separated his shoulder and led the Dolphins to — wait for it — two field goals.