By Dave Spadaro
Nick Foles claims he doesn’t feel any unusual pressure as the starting quarterback for the Eagles as they prepare for Saturday’s Divisional Playoff game against the Atlanta Falcons. He’s been here before, in the 2013 season, when the Eagles won the NFC East and hosted New Orleans.
Let’s hope it’s truly the case with Foles, because when the game kicks off at 4:35 p.m. on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field, all eyes will be on №9. Replacing the injured Carson Wentz is one thing. Having a national audience and, it seems, an entire league, doubting you is something entirely different.
“When it comes down to it,” Foles says, “It’s just football, something I’ve been doing my whole life. I’m going to go out there and have fun and do whatever I need to do to help this team win.”
The talk in the two weeks since the Eagles finished up the regular season is that, yes, they need to be committed to running the football and chewing up clock and winning at the line of scrimmage to have playoff success. And, no doubt, the defense has to step up its game and lead the way because, after all, defense wins championships.
But Foles has to make his share of plays, too. You score points in the NFL with “chunk” plays in the passing game, and if you need any further evidence, look around at the past weekend and tell me what you saw in those wild card games. Big plays. Passing threats. Balance in the offense.
The passing game lives in this league. So Foles has to be on point.
“I have no doubt he’s going to be the man because he’s shown us already,” wide receiver Alshon Jeffery said. “We won three games with Nick in there — at the Rams and then against the Giants and the Raiders. We all have his back. There is no reason for him to think he has to do anything other than just play his game. He does his part and we do our part. That’s how it works.”
In Foles’s lone playoff appearance, in that game against New Orleans, he completed 23-of-33 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns in the loss to the Saints. He left the field after throwing a 3-yard scoring pass to tight end Zach Ertz with 4 minutes, 54 seconds remaining in the game. Foles did his job. Would you take 23 for 33 and 2 touchdown passes on Saturday?
Sure you would. The Eagles are going to have to be physical and run the football against Atlanta. They’re going to have to be really good against the ground-and-pound Falcons offense that also features superstar wide receiver Julio Jones. The special teams are going to have to win field position.
But the Eagles can ask Foles to only “manage” the offense for so long. At some point, he has to make plays.
“I just need to get the ball to my guys and let them make the plays,” Foles said.
Pressure? Let’s hope Foles has it right and he’s cool as a cucumber. He’s a big guy with a good arm who has had success in the NFL (27 touchdowns, two interceptions and a Pro Bowl in 2013). At his best, Foles is a starting-caliber quarterback in the league.
He’ll have to play that way on Saturday. It’s win or go home, and the Eagles have no interest in stopping all this fun.