PHILADELPHIA — Fletcher Cox finally had enough.
Peppered by questions on Thursday about the prowess of future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees, Cox felt compelled to call an audible of his own.
“Nick Foles is a Super Bowl MVP,” the Philadelphia Eagles’ star defensive tackle interjected, in an attempt to steer the conversation toward his playoff quarterback. “Nick Foles is a Super Bowl MVP. Nick Foles gets rid of the ball. He’s a great leader. He’s always got energy. And I’m looking forward to him playing on Sunday.”
Brees may be having a season worthy of MVP consideration, and the New Orleans Saints (13-3) may have had one of the best regular-season records in the NFL. But Foles is the only quarterback Cox cares to hype up at the moment.
No disrespect to Brees, of course.
The Eagles know just how good the Saints’ signal-caller is, and they know all too well how explosive their offense is. But Cox & Co. also have seen how clutch Foles can be – even if he’s only their backup.
For the second straight year, Foles has been tasked with leading the Eagles’ offense in the postseason due to absence of injured starter Carson Wentz. Last year, Foles was named Super Bowl MVP after throwing for 373 yards and three touchdowns on 28-of-43 passing against New England. And while he also threw an interception that night against the Patriots, he also finished with a 106.1 QB rating and had a touchdown catch of his own, courtesy of the now-famous “Philly Special” trick play.
And once more, the Eagles are the postseason underdogs. But their confidence, they say, is buoyed by strong team bonds and an unwavering confidence in Foles, who’ll match up against Brees in Sunday’s NFC divisional round.
The Saints’ quarterback became the NFL’s new all-time passing yardage leader with 74,437, set personal bests in interceptions (five), passer rating (115.7) and completion percentage (74.4 percent,) and also threw for 3,992 yards and 32 touchdowns this season.
Brees also has never lost a playoff game in New Orleans.
Impossible to beat? Not at all, if you ask the Eagles.
“I’m not talking about Drew Brees anymore. I’m talking about Nick Foles,” Cox announced in the crowded locker room, again cutting off a question about Brees in an effort to turn attention to an underrated talent.
“[I’m doing it] because nobody gives Nick Foles credit,” he told Yahoo Sports. “Look what he’s done. Nick Foles is doing a great job of just leading the offense. We have two really good quarterbacks. It sucks to see Carson go down and for him to have to watch. But at the same time, Nick is up and he’s just playing pretty good. We all know Carson’s our guy. They drafted this guy really high and the biggest thing for us is just continuing to rally around each other no matter what the situation is, no matter who’s playing.”
Foles, who turns 30 on Jan. 20, has the highest completion percentage (69.8 percent) and best passer rating (105.2) of any NFL quarterback (with 150 attempts). Those gaudy stats are quickly overshadowed by Brees’ storied career and New Orleans’ regular-season dominance.
The Saints trampled the Eagles, 48-7, in their previous meeting on Nov. 18. Doug Pederson’s players are eager to prove a different defense will show up on Sunday.
“They’re the class of the NFC for a reason — until somebody beats them or slows them down,” Eagles defensive end Chris Long said. “At the end of the day, yeah, it pissed us off. But we had to get back to work. Now playing them, people are rehashing that [lopsided score], but for us, that’s not a fresh wound. It’s healed. And we’re excited to play.”
Cox called that defensive performance “a gut check” that humbled the entire unit. “Just understanding that you don’t get many second chances — in life,” he said of this weekend’s rematch. “So, we’ve just got to embrace this opportunity and go out and play a complete football game.”
That loss to the Saints was the low point of the Eagles’ season. But after that Week 11 matchup, Philly went on to win five of its final six games to earn a playoff berth. Few thought they had any shot of defeating the Bears in Chicago last week, and even less seem to believe the Eagles can pull off the upset in New Orleans.
But being the underdogs is a role Philly enjoys playing. And they wouldn’t want it any other way.
“I don’t think a lot of people are giving us a chance. Which is fun,” Long said. “We like that.”
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