He didn’t quite announce Nick Foles as the starting quarterback for the the next millennium, but Jeffrey Lurie stopped just short Saturday night of branding Foles as the the future of the franchise.
“I don’t want to comment on any player, but how can you not be impressed with Nick?” Lurie, the Eagles’ chairman, said in the home locker room after the Eagles were bounced from the playoffs with a 26-24 loss to New Orleans (see story).
“With everything he has accomplished, including tonight. He had no turnovers and led us back from 20-7. He is incredibly impressive.”
Foles shook off a rocky start to complete 22 of 39 passes (69.7 percent) for 195 yards and throw two touchdowns against the NFL’s fourth-ranked defense in his playoff debut. His touchdown pass to Zach Ertz with less than five minutes to play put the Eagles up 24-23, but the Saints won on Shayne Graham’s 32-yard field goal as time expired.
Foles registered a 105.0 passer rating, the fourth-highest this season against New Orleans, and put up his 10th passer rating of at least 103.5 in games when he’s thrown at least 18 passes.
Not bad for a guy who wasn’t officially named starter until five weeks ago, when Kelly jokingly referred to Foles as the starter “for the next thousand years.”
Kelly will likely be asked Monday, in his season-ending press conference, if he’s still committed long term to Foles, who led the NFL with a 119.2 passer rating and finished the regular season with 25 touchdowns and just two interceptions.
After the game, Foles spoke about the team’s potential for the future.
“We have great people that are going to work hard and play for each other,” he said. “We have a great coaching staff because they believe in us, and they want to make us better people and better football players. We have great personnel all around the NovaCare facility. They’re great people, and it’s a great place to go to work.
“That’s why I know that this team is going to continue to improve and we’re going to continue to work hard. That doesn’t guarantee wins, but it puts us in a position to be successful. I know the heart of this team, and it’s going to hurt. It’s going to hurt for a long time, but I know that everyone is going to keep their head held high, as the city of Philadelphia will.”
Foles, a third-round pick from Arizona whom fans knew little about when he arrived last year, showed promise last year on a dismal, injury-ravaged 4-12 team when he took over for a concussed Michael Vick and averaged 240 passing yards and completed 61 percent of his passes in seven games (six starts).
Coach Andy Reid, who drafted Foles and was fired after the season, reportedly tried to deal for Foles after he was hired to coach the Chiefs. A deal never happened, Reid instead traded for Alex Smith, and Kelly had Vick and Foles compete for the starting job in training camp.
VIck won the job after two preseason games, but the Eagles were 1-3 when Vick injured his hamstring against the Giants on Oct. 6 at the Meadowlands. Foles took over and shook off a loss to Dallas to peel off a string of tremendous performances that gave Kelly no choice but to keep him as the starter.
Vick’s future is much more uncertain. He just finished his fifth season with the Eagles, who gave him his first chance to return to the NFL after a prison sentence. Vick, who will be a free agent, has said he’d like to be a starter but could return as Foles’ backup if nobody gives him a chance to start or compete to start.
Vick has stayed out of trouble since joining the Eagles and this year drew praise for his maturity in helping Foles develop and asserting his leadership in the locker room.
“Michael has been as impressive to all of you, I am sure. But, to us, internally, he is so incredibly mature,” Lurie said. “He’s a great teammate and the ultimate leader. He is somebody who has helped Nick tremendously. He has been a joy to have. He has represented the team always with class. I didn’t know a lot about Michael before he came. I had heard a lot and he has been very impressive.”