Sometime on Sunday afternoon, Nick Foles took his rightful place next to Ron Jaworski, Randall Cunningham and Donovan McNabb as the next franchise quarterback of the Eagles. That’s right. The debate is finally over. Foles is the man.
Maybe it was the back-to-back touchdown passes late in the second quarter to Jordan Matthews that made Foles’ ascension official. Or it might have been those brilliant throws to Jeremy Maclin in the final minutes that moved the Eagles ahead for good. Most likely, it was the way he absorbed a cheap shot and still led his team to a thrilling 37-34 win over Washington.
From his first appearance here three seasons ago, Nick Foles has been a source of contention among Eagles fans. Even his historic quarterback rating of 119 last season – better than Peyton Manning’s – left room for criticism, an undercurrent that only grew louder after two lackluster efforts to start the current season.
But Foles did something on Sunday that won over even the biggest cynics. He showed how tough he was. Behind a makeshift line missing four of five starters and facing a defense that had 10 sacks the previous week, Foles refused to go down behind the line. He avoided a hellacious pass rush all day without yielding a single sack.
Then, when he was blindsided by nose tackle Chris Baker late in the game – as dirty a play as you will see in the kinder, gentler NFL – Foles gathered himself and saved an important division victory for his teammates.
With his gee-whiz style, it is easy to see Foles as a soft player, but he is most certainly not that. In fact, he is every bit the kind of warrior Jaworski was, absorbing punishment without complaint. His resiliency is reminiscent of Cunningham, minus the athleticism. And Foles is no less courageous than McNabb, who once played half a game on a broken ankle.
What Foles has that none of those others did is a bond with his teammates that transcends big plays and smart decisions. As Foles lay in obvious pain on the ground after the Baker assault, Jason Peters attacked the nose tackle, prompting an ejection and leaving the already depleted offensive line even more vulnerable.
Peters said he did it because turning the other cheek was not a logical option at that point. Allowing a thug like Baker – who was expelled from Penn State in 2008 for fighting – to pummel Foles would have been a sign of disrespect for the team leader, and for what coach Chip Kelly has been building here over the past year-plus.
Yesterday, I asked Kelly if he approved of Peters’ decision to retaliate for the cheap shot.
“Next question,” he said.
In other words, it was fine with the coach.
Nick Foles has played most of his life for the distinction he now, finally, owns with the Eagles. He is the new franchise quarterback. He is the man.