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Underdog Yet Again, Can Nick Foles Build On His Playoff Win?

If you’re a Philadelphia Eagles fan, chances are that you were smashing the “Panic Button” for the few days following the news of Carson Wentz’s ACL injury in week 14. You would have also had your hand hovering over that button as Nick Foles replaced Wentz for the rest of the season, inching it ever closer after some shaky performances in the final three rounds.

The noise surrounding the Eagles has been loud and constant in recent days. Will the Eagles offense be as strong without #11? Can the defense contain Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons attack? Can Philly win with Foles under center? It all resulted in the NFC’s #1 seed opening the Divisional Playoffs as underdogs vs the visiting #6 seed. But Philadelphia tuned it all out to walk away with a 15-10 win to prove the doubters wrong and book their ticket to the NFC Championship game. So how exactly did the Eagles “upset” Atlanta to now be hosting the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday? I put it down to two things.

First of all, Philadelphia won this game with defense. There were no spectacular, game-changing plays from the defensive unit. No interceptions. No forced fumbles. They just turned it up and did their job. Fletcher Cox was a beast on the Eagles frontline, and none of the Falcons’ O-line could keep a handle on the big man. Cox and co. got into the backfield frequently, recording 3 sacks, 8 tackles for a loss and keeping Devonta Freeman to 7 rushing yards on his 10 carries. Julio got loose for 9 catches and 101 yards because, well… he’s Julio Jones, but the “No Phly Zone” contained Atlanta’s passing game as every other receiver combined for just 109 yards. The normally potent Falcons offense was held to just 10 points and was kept scoreless after halftime. In fact, the only touchdown thrown came from a piece of Matt Ryan magic in the second quarter, after the Falcons recovered a muffed punt inside the redzone. Fittingly, the defense produced the biggest stand of the game inside the final 2 minutes to secure the victory. The Falcons were 4th and goal at the 2-yard line and as all of Philadelphia held their collective breath, Ryan scrambled out of the pocket and threw the ball just out of reach of Julio’s outstretched hands. Philadelphia ran out the clock from there.

The other reason the Eagles won? Nick Foles.

Nick Foles EaglesNo, seriously. Foles has proven that he can play this game, as evidenced by his NFL record 27:2 touchdown to interception ratio from the 2013 season. He’s also shown he can get overwhelmed, as shown by pretty much every other season between then and now. The former Pro-Bowl QB found himself in, and subsequently back out, of 3 NFL sides since 2013 following a stint with the Rams, Foles considered walking away from the game at the age of 27. Of course, he didn’t and can now call himself a playoff winning QB. With the worry of Wentz’s recovery hanging over this franchise, fans were anxious to see if Foles could lead them to the big dance and, if need be, into next season.

It was a tale of two halves for Foles. His first half would have had fans on the edge of their seats, and not for good reason. On the Eagles first play from scrimmage, he threw a deep ball into the wind for Torrey Smith. The pass fell a good 15 yards short of its intended target but the Eagles got bailed out with a DPI when Brian Poole interfered with Smith as he was trying to get back to the pass. Then, Jay Ajayi lost a fumble on the very next play. His next time out, Foles over-threw Zach Ertz, got another DPI on a target to Mack Hollins, fumbled a hand-off to LeGarrette Blount, had a 10-yard completion to Ertz and then got sacked to close out the drive.

From there, Coach Pederson steadied the ship by calling Ajayi’s number repeatedly and allowing Foles to settle his nerves with a few check down passes. The Eagles produced an 86-yard touchdown drive to take the 6-3 lead. Jake Elliott kicked the PAT into the left upright.

But the quintessential Foles play came on the final drive of the half. Foles threw a pass well over the head of Ertz and straight to Falcons safety Keanu Neal. Except as Neal jumped for the interception (which he didn’t need to do), the ball bounced off his raised knee back into the hands of Torrey Smith who took it for a 20-yard reception. Foles then found Alshon Jeffery along the sideline to stop the clock and allow a late Elliott field goal from 53 yards to make it 10-9 at the break.

A different Nick Foles emerged after halftime. His best drive of the game came in the third quarter as he had 6 of 8 completions for 70 yards and led Philly to a go-ahead 37-yard field goal. He followed that up with an 80-yard field goal drive, including gains of 33-yards to Ajayi and 11-yards to Ertz, both on 3rd and 7. But maybe Foles best play was saved for last. Following that goalline stand, he got Grady Jarrett to bite on a hard count, jumping offsides and buy the Eagles a bit of room as they wound out the clock.

Foles finished the day with 23 completions from 30 attempts, 246 yards and a fumble recovery on the touchdown drive. It wasn’t a flawless performance, but once he settled in, he played well enough for Eagles fans to be comfortable going into the upcoming match up with the Case Keenum led Vikings. If Foles can string together a full game like his second half against Atlanta, and this same defense shows up, the city of Philadelphia can start to feel confident of their third Superbowl appearance. Rest easy Philly. It seems the team is in good hands for now.


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