TAMPA, Fla. – One play may have signaled the end of the Michael Vick era in Philadelphia.
The forgotten first-year man, Nick Foles of the Eagles, had one play to win his first NFL game here Sunday. The ball sat at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 1-yard line with two seconds left and Philadelphia behind, 21-16. It was touchdown or bust, and Foles had just spiked the ball to stop the clock. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg ripped through his list of "plus-five red zone plays" and suddenly a voice cut him off.
"I want that one!" someone shouted.
Mornhinweg looked up: "Who said that?!"
It was Foles. He was calling his own play.
"You said that?" Mornhinweg said.
Philadelphia coaches and players got pretty excited for a group that hadn't won in two months. Mornhinweg even high-fived his quarterback before he ran back onto the field. It was a "movement" play, where wide receiver Jason Avant would head to the corner of the end zone and Jeremy Maclin would run a 5- or 6-yard out route. Foles would have to hustle out of the pocket and throw it low and away to Maclin.
It was a big boy throw. But Foles wanted it.
"I like a movement play in that situation," Foles said after the game. "It was the first play in my head."
Maclin grinned as he recalled lining up, looking at the Bucs' coverage, and knowing the Eagles would win the game before he took a single step.
"No way they could cover that," Maclin said afterward.
Foles executed it perfectly, the Eagles scored to win 23-21, and for one afternoon it looked like this horrendous season had a silver lining that could carry over into next year.
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That silver lining is Foles, who may not be the answer at quarterback, but he sure looked like it against a Bucs defense that held Philadelphia to 29 rushing yards, 27 of which were gained by Foles. An offense that looked wretched at times under Vick finally had a spark with Foles under center Sunday. Reid this past week made a decision to go with the rookie for the rest of the season, meaning Vick may have taken his last snap in an Eagles uniform.
"He wanted that last play," head coach Andy Reid said. "He called it, he wanted it, and he executed it."
And if you think the final play was gutsy, how about the one right before it? That play wasn't even in the Eagles' game plan.
Philadelphia had the ball at the Tampa Bay 23 with 16 seconds left. It was fourth-and-5. The Bucs played two safeties deep and both Mornhinweg and Foles noticed. Avant was instructed to run a post – something he hadn't even practiced in that situation. Mornhinweg had the confidence to send Avant, but he also had the faith that Foles would make the play.
Foles threaded it, and Avant made it 22 yards to the Bucs' 1. Foles hustled up to the line of scrimmage, spiked it, and gave the Eagles a shot to win.
Foles didn't call that penultimate play, but Mornhinweg said the quarterback did call several throughout the game, even on that final drive that began at the Eagles' 36 with 2:44 to play in the last quarter.
"Throughout the game," Mornhinweg said, "in several cases, he wants a play and he's got it. He audibled several plays."
The result: Foles went 32 for 51 for 381 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 98.6 rating. Not bad for a rookie. And not bad for a third-round pick out of Arizona who made his NFL debut less than a month ago and made his first start last week.
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Eagles fans probably aren't rushing out for Foles jerseys – not that Eagles fans get optimistic about anything … ever – but it's clear Foles has a good grasp of an advanced offense. And he didn't have DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy or Brent Celek, who left Sunday's game with a concussion. Nobody would have been surprised if the Eagles, coming in at 3-9 and without a win in two months, simply lost the rest of their games.
"It looked like he rallied the team," Reid said. "Or they rallied around him. It looked like Nick did really well, made good decisions and made big plays."
Maclin chimed in with the highest praise, saying "You guys are seeing Nick Foles grow into a phenomenal quarterback right in front of your eyes. I think the sky's the limit for him."
Of course, this is the same quarterback who lost 31-6 to Washington in Week 11, so "the sky" still seems quite far away. But at least Foles didn't spend the majority of Sunday on his back, looking at the sky.
In fact, one of the first things Foles saw after the game was Reid, waiting in the locker room for him as he came off the field. Reid cupped his right hand around the back of Foles' neck, leaned in to congratulate him, and patted him on the shoulder as the quarterback walked into a mob of teammates screaming "Nick Foles! Nick Foles!"
"We don't look at him as a rookie," Avant said.
Maybe not. But Eagles fans definitely have reason to look at him as a good reason to wait til next year.
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