2013 In Review: Top Five Individuals in Philadelphia Sports in 2013

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2. Nick Foles-Eagles Quarterback

Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey G. Pittenger-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps the most incredible aspect of Nick Foles’ year is that, despite his success, there is still a sizeable contingency of detractors. As crazy as it might sound, there were those who felt the second year quarterback out of Arizona had a better chance at succeeding in the NFL a year ago today.

In 2012, Nick Foles was little more than a preseason success story who happened to play quarterback. Prior to the first week of regular season games in the NFL, every fanbase has the group of future second-stringers and practice squad players they defend like their own youth. In 2012, for Eagles fans, Nick Foles was the Napoleon Dynamite doppelganger whose preseason success served as a welcome storyline leading into what would eventually be another dismal season under Andy Reid.

Foles was able to provide the Eagles’ following with one of its few bright spots in the team’s 4-12 campaign when he was able to lead the team to a comeback win over a Tampa Bay team that was still in contention. Still, Foles was far from a miracle worker as he closed out the season under center, tallying just the one win as a starter and turning in a very ordinary statline.

Many figured Foles’ time in Eagles green was all but finished when the organization hired Chip Kelly as their head coach. Kelly, who achieved a great deal of success at the college level with various quarterbacks that displayed exceptional running ability, was about to enter the NFL with zero experience at the game’s highest level. Wide speculation was that Kelly’s penchant for ‘dual-threat’ quarterbacks would follow him to the NFL ranks and the lumbering Foles had no place in the team’s future. When the team decided to bring back Michael Vick, an aging talent whose struggles with turnovers and proneness for injuries had all but caught up with him, Foles was essentially written off for dead.

Despite all the ‘experts’ writing Foles off, he remained on the Eagles roster through the offseason and into training camp. The astonishment at the situation reached a fever pitch when the rookie head coach announced that his first NFL team would be holding an open competition for the starting quarterback position. There were even those within the organization that questioned as to why Kelly would not pencil in Vick as the starter, citing the fact that the offense had to learn an entirely new philosophy and stability would be important. Despite the resistance, Kelly stuck to his guns and allowed the veteran Vick and young Foles to compete for the job over the course of the team’s training camp in preseason.

As many expected, Vick was named the starter entering week one. It is arguable that one poor decision by Foles, an interception in the red zone against the Carolina Panthers in a preseason start, ultimately decided his fate entering the season. When the Vick-led offense exploded in the Eagles’ week one win against the Redskins, it was nearly impossible to fathom the team being led by Nick Foles.

After the week one win, the Eagles struggled against their next three opponents. Turnovers, clock management issues, and inconsistent play in the red zone cost them potential wins against the Chargers & Chiefs and the team’s blowout loss against the Denver Broncos brought their record at the quarter pole to 1-3. When Vick went down with a hamstring injury during the team’s week five game against the Giants, with the team leading their winless rivals by a small margin, optimism slipped drastically.

Foles stepped in marvelously for Vick on the road in the team’s win against the Giants, throwing a pair of touchdown passes. He turned in another praise-worthy performance against Tampa Bay, but more people chalked that win up to LeSean McCoy and the team’s ability to run against one of the premiere rush defenses in the NFL.

Sitting at 3-3, tied for first place in an especially bad NFC East, some started to feel that Foles might be a better fit in Kelly’s offense than what was initially expected. Unfortunately for Foles, he picked a bad time to turn in his worst performance as a professional. After returning from a three-game road trip, the Eagles welcomed the hated Dallas Cowboys to Lincoln Financial Field for a clash to decide who would claim first place in the division near the halfway point of the season. Despite a roster sprinkled with pro bowl talent, the Cowboys appeared just as inconsistent and spotty as they had been for the better part of the three seasons prior. There could not have been a better setting for Foles to seize control of the starting job.

Instead, the steady and consistent Foles looked as bad as most Eagles’ fans had ever seen. From the opening drive, Foles missed open receivers, threw wild passes, and seemed generally uncomfortable in the pocket. Were it not for a spirited effort from the Eagles defense, the 17-3 final could have been much more lopsided than it actually was. After completing just 11 of his 29 attempts, Foles left the game with a concussion and the focus for the Eagles shifted toward which quarterback the team would draft during the offseason and when Michael Vick would return.

Foles would miss the team’s week eight loss at home against the Giants. The Eagles’ promising season had taken a harrowing turn and most of the criticism was placed on the unstable quarterback position. Michael Vick had attempted to play on his injured hamstring, but was eventually relieved by Matt Barkley and the pipe dream of reviving ‘Starship Seven’s’ career was replaced by the vision of Oregon’s Marcus Mariota donning Eagle green in the following draft.

Instead of giving rookie QB Matt Barkley, the player Kelly drafted, a chance to start in the team’s road game against the Raiders, Foles was given the nod. Many look at this decision as the pivot point of the Eagles season, mostly because no one could have blamed Kelly for giving up on Foles after the disaster at the Linc. Showing no signs of his concussion or the lack of confidence that plagued him against the Cowboys, Foles turned in a masterful performance in Oakland. With a little help from the Raiders’ secondary, Foles threw an NFL-record tying seven touchdown passes and zero interceptions in the team’s 49-20 win to improve their record to 4-5. Joining such names as Peyton Manning and Y.A. Tittle, Foles showed a resiliency not yet seen in the young quarterback and earned another start. The chance to do so in Oakland was all the young quarterback needed, as he showed rather quickly that he was as good a fit with Chip Kelly as Vick, or any other player.

Foles would follow up his clunker against the Cowboys with an astonishing stretch that saw the team post a 7-1 record. His 19 touchdowns without an interception fell one score short of an NFL record set by Peyton Manning, and the second-year pro’s feel for the game and Kelly’s quick-read offense continued to impress. Each win was more impressive than the next, and Foles’ reaction to the team’s lone loss in Minnesota was as mature as any veteran in the league. He would help engineer a blowout win in the team’s home finale against the Bears that set up a division-deciding showdown in week 17 against the Cowboys in Dallas.

Many questioned whether the Texas native had the stomach to avoid the distractions and the fact that he had delivered a potentially career-crippling performance against the same Cowboys earlier in the season. With over 90,000 Dallas fans in his ear, Foles delivered in a way his coach could not have asked any more of considering the circumstances. In one of the Eagles’ offensive lines worst games of the season, Foles was able to throw two touchdown passes and generally avoid disaster, save for a 4th quarter fumble in Eagles territory that his defense was able to overcome. When Brandon Boykin sealed the win with an interception of Kyle Orton in the final two minutes of the contest, it became evident that Nick Foles had every right and more being involved in the quarterback competition that many disputed in the beginning of the season.

In today’s NFL, where superstars drive the storylines and steadiness is often overlooked in preference to flashiness, Foles has proved the exception to the rule. His 27 touchdowns with just two interceptions are by far the most lopsided ratio as far as avoiding turning the ball over while reaching the endzone. Over his first season, Chip Kelly’s tentative praise transformed to almost school-girlish adoration for the ‘fleet of mind’ Foles as he helped lead the first year coach to the playoffs in his first season in the pros. His quiet competitiveness has had a profound impact on the playoff-bound Eagles and the connection and mastery he has shown of Kelly’s offense is astounding.

Were it not for Kelly’s tireless emphasis on constant competition, it would be easy to pencil in Foles as the Eagles quarterback for the next 10 seasons. His 27 touchdowns, over the course of less than 12 games mind you, rank in the top five of Eagles quarterbacks in franchise history. One can only imagine what he will do with an offseason to work with his receivers. What has impressed most about Foles to this point, is that he welcomes the challenge of knowing his job is under debate every day of every week. All he can do is control what he can and hope that the results speak for themselves. If nothing else, regardless of the team’s results in their playoff game against the New Orleans Saints, Foles has bought himself one more year as the starter. Shoot me for being biased, but I hope to be able to say that again for multiple seasons to come.