Philadelphia Eagles: One final thank you to Nick Foles

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 23: Quarterback Nick Foles #9 of the Philadelphia Eagles runs off the field after their 32-30 win over the Houston Texans at Lincoln Financial Field on December 23, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 23: Quarterback Nick Foles #9 of the Philadelphia Eagles runs off the field after their 32-30 win over the Houston Texans at Lincoln Financial Field on December 23, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images) /
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Philadelphia Eagles
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Homecoming King

My goodness, what a whirlwind of a two years it was. In case you hadn’t heard, after the Chip Kelly era ended in abysmal fashion with his firing, the Philadelphia Eagles took a completely different route. A route that took emotional intelligence and the human aspect of the game into account. Doug Pederson. The long-time backup quarterback behind Brett Favre and your quarterback’s coach in 2012. Another branch off of the Andy Reid coaching tree.

And oh yeah, we traded up to the second pick in the draft and selected our future franchise quarterback Carson Wentz, one pick after the Rams selected Goff and ended your time in St. Louis. And let me tell you, Philly fell in love with the kid.

Wentz played solid as a rookie but struggled with turnovers, throwing 14 interceptions. The team finished a disappointing 7-9, and there were questions surrounding Pederson’s coaching decisions. We all know what Mike Lombardi thought of him.

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But as he does so very often, Pederson kept his focus on the locker room, on the team, and on getting better for the next season. To be honest, aside from Andy Reid, Doug was the best coach you could choose to play for. He rode the pine behind a great quarterback and formed intangible personal skills and leadership qualities. And of course, you came back.

All was right with you back in the city. It didn’t make a huge splash, but there was certainly a comforting vibe knowing you were the backup. We all knew what you were capable of, and your words of support and encouragement for Wentz in your first press conference displayed your maturity and commitment to this city and this team.

The beginning of the season went as planned. You sat back and watched along with the rest of the fans, much like in training camp of 2012, as a mesmerizing and athletic quarterback dropped jaws. Wentz played lights out. The team played lights out. Record-setting game-winning kicks, huge wins on the road in LA (Chargers) and a run of convincing team victories in blowout fashion.

Then, on December 10th, it happened. I’ll never forget it. Home from school for the weekend to celebrate my birthday and watch the big game with my family. We all saw the play. We all saw Carson’s tomato red face limping off the field. We all knew it wasn’t good.

You didn’t get caught up in the moment. You tossed on your helmet after throwing four passes all season, and it was back. It was quiet at the time, but it was back.

Wentz left the game and the Rams, the same franchise that nearly ended your career, stormed down the field and took the lead early in the fourth quarter. With all the momentum in LA’s direction and Eagles fans around the world feeling uncomfortable at best, you connected for two big first downs within your first four passes and put the team in field goal range. Boom, through the uprights, and it was a one-point game.

The defense came up clutch as they often did that season, Chris Long sacked Goff, forcing a fumble and we got the ball back, already in field goal territory. An Aaron Donald penalty moved us even closer, and just like that, boop, we had the lead.

We forced the Rams to a three-and-out, and it all came down to one drive. Fourth quarter. Two minutes remaining. Jay Ajayi ran the ball twice, forcing the Rams to use their first of three timeouts, and setting us up with a third-and-eight situation. If we converted, the game was over. If we didn’t, they got the ball back at home with 1:45 left on the clock, a chance to win the game.

Less than one half prior, you were on the sideline having not seen a lick of meaningful game action all season. Now, under center for the hottest team in the league with a chance to clinch the NFC East, it came down to you. You dropped back, surveyed the field and thread a bullet through the needle in between two defenders, perfectly placed where only Nelson Agholor could nab it for a first down. Game over.  “Clutch gene”.

After learning that Wentz was out with a torn ACL, there was a sense of uneasiness around the city. Much like the last time you were here, some people thought the season was doomed and that the horrid curse of the Eagle Super Bowl drought struck again, taking out our MVP. But others remained positive and had faith in the man who last brought the Eagles to the playoffs in 2013: Nick Foles.

Your first start of the season was on the road, at Metlife Stadium. You let us know you were ready to let it fly, tossing four touchdowns and no interceptions. It was a nail biter to the end, with a massive defense stand in the red zone, and you earned your first victory as an Eagle starter in three years.

On Christmas night, you gave us a scare against the worst defense in the league, with an untimely fumble and interception, but you did enough to lead us down for the go-ahead field goal, and win the game 19-10, clinching home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

There was concern surrounding your performance and your ability to get the job done come playoff season. With no reason to risk injury on Week 17, you played one uneventful quarter and were benched for the rest of the game.

So leading into the playoffs, the hot question for Pederson: “Is Nick Foles, your quarterback?”. Reporters and fans alike with no faith. Degrading you 2013 performance against New Orleans. The negativity that only a true Philadelphian could produce. The outside noise and doubt may have gone to your head in earlier years, but this time, you drowned it out.

Coach Pederson did what the greatest coaches are able to do; he adjusted the game plan to fit your specific needs and comforts. But let’s be real, you were tossed into action after nearly two years in the backup role, and were given roughly two and a half games to build camaraderie with your receivers and get back into the groove. Unfortunately, you were being compared to Wentz’s MVP numbers.

Entering the game against Atlanta, the pressure was on. The Falcons were hot, having made it to the Super Bowl the prior season and recently defeated the Rams at home in an upset on Wild Card weekend. It was a defensive battle down to the very end.

A little luck from Keanu Neal’s knee turned a would-be interception into a significant gain followed by a field goal as the first half ran down. Quite frankly, that knee may have turned around the game, the playoffs and the season completely, and kick-started the magical run. But hey, everyone needs a little magic.

And as the final minutes ticked down, it came to a defensive stand on the goal line. Fourth and two with a minute left for all the marbles. A jump ball to Julio Jones, through his hands and to the ground. We were moving on to the NFC Championship for the first time in nine years, with you at the helm.

Once again, I was home for the weekend to watch that game. One thing stuck in my mind so vividly. On the drive back to Temple, I was listening to one of the Philly sports talk radio shows, and they were talking NFC Championship Game. One of the callers started discussing different options to bring in at quarterback for the first few weeks the next season until Wentz would return. The night we made it to the NFC Championship. As the one seed. In the playoffs. At home.

I was utterly disgusted and disappointed at that point. The numbers weren’t stellar, but you were bringing us wins. Why did so many people doubt you? Why wasn’t there more support? You were our guy, an Eagle since day one. Why were there so many haters?

Thankfully, Nick, you were at peace with yourself, believed in yourself, and were part of a locker room that blocked the outside noise and the haters. National media and negative Eagles fans alike.

Thanks to a miracle (incredibly stupid mental lapse) in Minneapolis, the second-seeded Vikings were headed to Philly. And a matchup between the clunker quarterbacks of the 2015 Rams. Somehow, some way, people were choosing Case Keenum once again. He’s a legitimate starter; he finally has his chance, Minnesota is destined for a home Super Bowl.

We all know how the story goes. They jumped out early, but Keenum was the first to crack. Pick six. And that was all she wrote. The Eagles defensive pressure got to Keenum all day. And you? You slaughtered the top defense in the league. Taking over the game. Dropping a bomb to Alshon Jeffery, and another via flea flicker to Torrey Smith. One more to Jeffery as the icing on the cake. You were able to watch from the sidelines as the clock ran out and you punched your ticket to Super Bowl LII. “Clutch gene”.

The dog masks came out, and the hype began. The first Super Bowl appearance since 2004 and it was a rematch against the dynasty of the Patriots. All week, as always, the doubt was front and center. But this time it was different. All the negativity, the criticism, the talk of “he can’t beat Brady”. It took place outside of the city. Philadelphia and Eagle Nation bought in. 100 percent. To those who were on the fence, you convinced them.

Outside of Philly, you didn’t stand a chance. There was no way you could go head to head with the GOAT. The entire team was disrespected on this run, but you know that so I’m beating a dead horse.

You and every other player and coach in that locker room walked onto the field in Minneapolis confident that you’d be walking off with the Lombardi Trophy. You wasted no time, leading us on a 14-play seven-minute drive to take an early 3-0 lead. After the Pats tied it up with a field goal, you flexed. Following a big run from LeGarrette Blount, you showed fearlessness, guts, and trust, tossing a 34-yard jump ball to Jeffery in the end zone for a touchdown. The Birds were here to stay, and Foles was in the building.

A Blount breakaway touchdown extended the lead to 15-3, and the Pats could only counter with a field goal. You got the ball back. 15-6. A chance to really set the tone and take a commanding lead. Jay Ajayi broke off a 26-yard run, and the ball at the 43-yard line. So what do you do? You went for the jugular. A deep ball to Jeffery. He had one arm tangled and nearly pulled in the miraculous one-handed grab, but the ball popped out and into the hands of Duron Harmon for an interception. The momentum halted. Drive stopped. You didn’t hang your head, and neither did anyone else. Just a good punt, right?

Well, the Pats drove down and scored. All of a sudden it’s 15-12, Bill Belichick and the dynasty back in business. With two minutes remaining in the first half and the Patriots receiving the second half kick off, something had to be done. It started at the hands, or feet, of Corey Clement, taking a wheel route 55-yards and falling just short of the end zone.

Three plays later,  fourth and goal on the New England one-yard-line. The world knows the story. Set up in the shotgun, you stepped up to make a read at the line and call “Lane, Lane”. The ball snapped into the hands of a rookie running back who tossed it to the third-string tight end. You slipped past the defense, and Trey Burton delivered a pass on the money. In the end zone. To you. The quarterback. Nick Foles.

Tom Brady failed at it earlier, but not on the goal line. Not on fourth and goal with time running down in the first half of the Super Bowl. Philly, Philly. Philly Special. Guts. Trust. Determination. “Clutch gene”.

Out of the half, you knew it wasn’t going to be easy. Brady to Gronk was taking shape, and the duo ended the first drive with a touchdown. We came back with our own drive, and you made a throw like no other. With Corey Clement streaking down the field one defender on his back, another half a step behind, and a third closing in, you dropped the ball right between them, into his breadbasket for another touchdown. 28-19.

Of course, Brady answered with another touchdown, and we only returned with a field goal. Sure enough, “Brady to Gronk: Part Two” left the score 33-32, and for the first time, all game the Patriots held the lead.

Sure enough, that would be the end of the magic. The GOAT prevails and St. Nick falls short of a miracle, back to reality, right? Nope. You’d lead us on a drive, the type of career-defining drive that makes you more than a hero, it makes you a legend.

With just over nine minutes remaining in the game and starting at your own 25-yard line, you would spend the next seven minutes working downfield, eating up clock and writing the script to a Hollywood finish play-by-play.

The first on third-and-six, with a hand in your face, complete to Zach Ertz with less than a yard to spare for the first down. Three plays later, with time ticking down, facing a fourth-and-one at your own 45, it was do-or-die. But that didn’t phase you. After everything you’ve overcome in your life, in your career, you had no doubt. You escaped a sack and got the pass off, into the arms of Ertz with just enough for the first down.

As the clock continued to tick, you ripped off three first downs to Agholor with ice in your veins. The first rolling to your right on second-and-nine, escaping pressure and delivering a dime to the sideline on the run. The next, thread between the narrowing gap of two defenders and nearly tipping Devin McCourty’s finger. The third, a short pass to Agholor who fought past the marker.

Three plays, thirty-eight yards and into the red zone. With 2:25 remaining, on third-and-seven, you completed the drive with a slant to Ertz who dove across the goal line for a touchdown. You led us on the greatest fourth-quarter comeback drive in team history, against a super-powered dynasty, in the Super Bowl. “Clutch. Gene”.

The rest played out as we’ve seen so many times. Let’s not kid ourselves; we’ve all watched it time and time again. The sack and fumble. Cris Collinsworth’s infamous “Uh-oh”. BG with the hit, Derek Barnett scoops it up, and the GOAT sitting on the ground pouting, wondering where it all went wrong. Jake Elliott knocked the biggest kick of his life through the uprights, and the scoreboard read 41-33.

The remaining 58 seconds lasted a lifetime, and it felt as if the ball was in the air for eternity on that final play. But after being batted around and bobbled, the football hit the ground, and the clock read 0:00.

As I sit here thinking about that moment from my perspective, I start to think about it from your perspective. I’ll touch on the impact later on, but the journey you went on to get to that moment. We’re naturally selfish to be so thankful that you brought the city our first Lombardi Trophy. For us. Because it makes us happy.

But you overcame all odds, constantly doubted, always criticized. Others gave up on you more times than most could handle. And yet, there you stood, on the field, accomplishing the ultimate goal, which every football player dreams of from the first time they have a catch in their backyard. You were so happy to bring this one home to the city, felt that we deserved it more than anyone. But there is one person who deserved it more than us. You.

Then came the parade, the media, and the trade talks. So much discussion surrounding it, and quite honestly, why wouldn’t you want to be a starter again? You just proved to the nation that you can be one of the best in the league and you can beat the best in the league.

But you’re that type of person, that rare breed who simply has no greed to contain, no ego to check, and would rather stay in a place that makes you happy over an opportunity that may seem to be the best choice.

With Wentz’s return date in question, there was no doubt we would need you. As the season rolled around, it was a matter of “Can Nick Foles keep them in it until Carson is back”. It’s unfathomable how one could accomplish what you did and STILL be doubted. And after a summer of coverage mostly surrounding Wentz, it was nice to see you back in the saddle for those first few games of the season.

The win against the Falcons wasn’t pretty, but a win is a win-win. Still the murmurs of “when will Carson be back” and “Foles is still just a backup” crowded the airwaves. You went into Tampa Bay, played a fine game, but the defense was torn to shreds. They took their fair share of the heat, but somehow if Wentz was playing, it might have ended differently. You lost one game. The team was still 1-1. So early in the season. Yet you weren’t the guy, and the fans wanted to make that clear.

So Wentz returned, whether he was fully healthy or not could be argued for days, and you were sent back to the bench. Wentz’s numbers were fine, stellar to be quite frank. But the eye test wasn’t adding up. He was struggling, and it was frustrating to watch. Two massive blown leads by the defense didn’t help, but he wasn’t getting it done. Rock bottom hit with a three-interception showing in New Orleans followed by an abysmal first-half performance in Dallas that all but ended our season.

After that game, reports surfaced of issues with Wentz’s back, and amidst more confusion than anyone wants when dealing with the injury to a second-overall pick, he was ruled out of the game against the Rams.

I have no idea why, and I can’t explain it, but I had such an optimistic feeling once it was announced that you’d be starting. And I wasn’t alone. Despite believing that the loss in Dallas crushed any chance of a playoff berth through the weak NFC East and that a Wild Card spot wasn’t a legitimate possibility, I felt good about having you back in the saddle.

And so it began again. Against that same team. The Rams. You tore it up and, despite not throwing a touchdown, you led us to victory on the road in LA. And somehow, all of a sudden, a glimmer of hope. We were presented with a possible path to the playoffs. Win out and hope for a miracle. But it seemed so unlikely entering a contest against the red-hot Texans, trying to clinch a first-round bye of their own.

But you stepped out on the field and torched them. Four touchdowns topped off by an 83-yard bomb to Agholor. The unthinkable was happening again, until the defense, as it did so often in the regular season, let it slip away. In the blink of an eye, we were down yet again, two minutes remaining in our season and backed up at our own 10-yard line.

On third-and-ten you tossed a prayer of a jump ball to Jeffery as Jadeveon Clowney simultaneously plowed into your rib cage with his helmet. Somehow, someway, he pulled it in. But everyone in the building, everyone watching around the world in bars and their living rooms, we all held our breath as you were on the ground, wincing in pain. Sure, the 15-yard penalty was huge, but if we didn’t have St. Nick, it was all over.

You walked off the field on your own, and for one play we prayed that Nate Sudfeld wouldn’t do anything stupid. Sure enough, after that play, you jogged back onto the field, and the crowd erupted. There’s no one they’d rather have under center at that moment than you. And you did it again. A 20-yard pass to Ertz brought it within field goal range. A Darren Sproles run set up the opportunity for a game-winning field goal. 35-yards out, Elliot booted it through the uprights and time expired. It was quite possibly your most impressive drive to date, truly showcasing your ability to take on the most pressure-filled moments, keeping our playoff hopes alive. “Clutch gene”.

Entering Week 17, we had no control over our destiny. There was no doubt you’d handle the Redskins, but it was up to the Bears, whose playoff bye was their only reason to play, going into Minnesota, who simply had to win and they were in. You handled business, setting another NFL record by completing 25 consecutive passes, and took down the Redskins. In Minneapolis, the unthinkable happened. The Vikings experienced a meltdown and collapsed. The Bears won, and we were headed to Chicago. You led us on the most unthinkable run to the playoffs. “Clutch gene”.

The next two games are so fresh, we all know what happens. You went into Chicago as the six seed, and again with the game on the line, you made the perfect call. Fourth and one, less than a minute remaining, you sidearmed a pass to Golden Tate in the end zone to take the lead at a roaring Soldier Field. “Clutch gene”. Doug froze the kicker, and “double doink”.

It’s incredible that it took this long, but people finally began to consider you as a legitimate franchise quarterback. Leading us into New Orleans, the buzz of a possible trip back to the Super Bowl was hot. And the feeling was if you won this one we’d have to consider bringing you back as the starter. Why this one? Why not the Houston game or the NFC Championship or, I don’t know, the Super Bowl? Not just in Philly, but all around the country, people were finally buying in.

I personally traveled to New Orleans to attend the game. The Superdome was deafening. One of the loudest venues I’ve ever been to. Ten minutes into the game, silence. You came out swinging and threw two swift punches for an early 14-0 lead. Even after you threw an interception, it felt similar to the one to Jeffery in the Super Bowl. It hurt, but it wasn’t devastating.

Unfortunately, the fake punt was. Momentum swung as Taysom Hill crossed the first down marker and the building was once again hopping. It wasn’t a great game on any front, yet with 2:58 left to play, Wil Lutz missed a field goal, and we were handed one last breath of air.

Yet again, you were leading us on an improbable fourth-quarter comeback. On the road in the Superdome against the heavily favored Saints. And as the clock approached the two-minute warning, with the crowd quiet and not expecting a play, you snapped it and delivered a strike into the hands of the always reliable Jeffery on the slant. But this time, it slipped right through and into the open arms of Marshon Lattimore.

I have full faith that, had Jeffery caught that pass, you would have led the offense to a touchdown and won the game. But that drop ended the game. It ended the magic run. It ended the season. And it very likely ended your time in Philadelphia.

I’ll never forget standing in Section 609 Row 22 Seat 12, frozen. Staring at the field and thinking that this is it. The team that won the Super Bowl, it wasn’t the same this year, but it’s going to look a whole lot different next year. And as I watched you jog into the tunnel, disappearing out of sight, it really hit me.

This might very well be the end.