We all remember the Philadelphia Eagles were underdogs in each playoff game last season. We typically forget it’s because nobody believed in Nick Foles. That was justified, considering how bad he was late in the regular season.
We also might temporarily forget that when Foles was cut by the Los Angeles Rams in the summer of 2016, he signed as the Kansas City Chiefs’ backup for a measly $1.75 million. He almost became a pastor the following offseason before the Eagles came calling, and it wouldn’t have been a big headline if he retired. He was out of our consciousness by then. It’s possible nobody would have noticed for a while.
Maybe someone has had a stranger career than Nick Foles, but it’s hard to come up with that answer. When Foles is good, he’s great. At times he looks like one of the five best quarterbacks in the NFL. Other times, it’s no surprise he’s a backup.
Sunday’s amazing performance against the Houston Texans wasn’t the best of Foles’ career. That was last season’s Super Bowl, when he won MVP. Or it was the entire 2013 season, when he put up the third-best passer rating in NFL history, before falling back into obscurity.
But what he did Sunday was amazing too.
Foles threw for an Eagles-record 471 yards with four touchdowns and led a game-winning drive in the final minute to knock off the Texans 32-30. It’s not like Sunday’s story needed any more layers, but Foles came back on the final drive after being knocked out for a play when Jadeveon Clowney hit him in the chest, a hit that drew a personal foul. Foles’ biggest play on the final drive was a huge third-and-10 completion to Zach Ertz, which got the Eagles into field-goal range.
With a loss, the defending Super Bowl champions would have been eliminated from playoff contention. Foles wouldn’t let it happen.
The good part about having the most hot-and-cold quarterback in NFL history is riding the hot streaks. It happened in the playoffs last season. It’s happening again, too. Foles, who got another chance to start after Carson Wentz was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his back, led a big upset over the Rams last week and was incredible in the win over the Texans, who were 10-4 coming in. Foles looks like a completely different player than the one who was underwhelming the first two games of this season, when Wentz was still working back from an ACL injury.
Whether Foles can complete the miracle and get the Eagles in the playoffs — they’ll need to beat the Redskins next week and get help — we’ll hear a familiar tale in the offseason: What will Philadelphia do with Foles, who will end this regular season as the NFL’s hottest quarterback?
Foles has a mutual option on his contract, according to ESPN.com. It would pay him $20 million in 2019. Philadelphia has already stated that Wentz is the starter going forward, which makes sense even though the Eagles have mostly played better over the last calendar year with Foles in the lineup. On one hand, $20 million is steep for a backup. On the other, the Eagles might find a nice trade market for him. Or they might just value him so much as a backup, especially given Wentz’s injury history, that $20 million isn’t that unreasonable.
That sums up Foles’ career. He’s the backup for the Eagles, but it’s not crazy to think they might pay him $20 million for that role.
That’s a story for another day, and before then there are sure to be more “Wentz or Foles?” opinions over the offseason, though we all know it’s Wentz. For now the Eagles are focused on getting another win and maybe squeezing in the playoffs.
And if the Eagles make the playoffs? How much damage they can do depends on which Foles shows up. Good luck figuring that out.
Here are the rest of the winners and losers from Week 16 of the NFL season:
Aaron Rodgers: The truth is Rodgers has not had a great season. Maybe that’s the knee injury he suffered in Week 1, a coaching staff that struggled to create an offense to fit him, or whatever else. But he hasn’t been great.
If you were wondering if Rodgers is somehow slipping … probably not.
On Sunday, Rodgers had a vintage performance. He threw for 442 yards and two touchdowns, had two rushing touchdowns and led the Packers back from a 15-point deficit after three quarters to beat the New York Jets 44-38 in overtime. Rodgers’ overtime touchdown pass to Davante Adams, after Rodgers’ touchdown run was wiped out due to a holding penalty, was a beautiful throw. It wasn’t a game that mattered in the playoff race, but it was still a thrilling performance from one of the league’s stars.
It likely doesn’t make that big of a difference in what will happen with the Packers’ coaching search. A good candidate will still want to coach Rodgers, one of the all-time greats. But Sunday was a reminder that with the right hire, Rodgers can still be as great as ever.
Jason McCourty: While nobody neutral roots for the Patriots, sometimes they have a nice feel-good story.
McCourty spent his first eight seasons with the Tennessee Titans and his ninth with the Cleveland Browns. He turned 31 years old in August and had never made the playoffs. McCourty will finally experience the postseason, after the Patriots won the AFC East on Sunday (though he might need to wait an extra week, because the Patriots caught a huge break when the Texans lost, opening up the chance to clinch a first-round bye next week).
McCourty isn’t just along for the ride. He has been a starting cornerback most of the season. He had an interception and a forced fumble in Sunday’s win over the Bills.
“The old man still can do a little bit of something,” McCourty said, according to Jeff Howe of The Athletic.
Baker Mayfield: Mayfield needs two more touchdowns to tie the NFL record for touchdown passes by a rookie. Not bad for a guy who Hue Jackson wanted to sit all season.
Mayfield is going to be a lot of fun to watch, and not just for the future possibilities of him staring down Jackson (who wanted to start Tyrod Taylor over Mayfield all season …. right) on the opposing sideline. Mayfield, who would have blown past that rookie record had he started the first three games of this season, already looks like a star. Finally, Browns fans, you have a quarterback.
Mayfield had a few amazing throws in his 284-yard, three-touchdown day in a win over the Bengals. A touchdown pass to Darren Fells was squeezed into the tightest window possible right on the sideline. He made a third-down throw to Jarvis Landry rolling left that didn’t get a first down, but was still pretty stunning. We should get used to that because Mayfield is only going to get better.
We’ll see what the Browns, who are 7-7-1 and could improbably finish with a winning record, do about their head-coaching decision. It still seems like a bad idea to hire interim coach Gregg Williams, but that’s becoming more likely by the week. Either way, the Browns will enter next season as everyone’s chic pick to make the playoffs, because of their star quarterback.
The Indianapolis Colts’ improbable playoff run, and AFC South drama: The Houston Texans’ loss didn’t just help the New England Patriots. In the span of eight days the Texans could go from the favorite to get the No. 2 seed to not even winning the division.
The Colts and Titans kept the heat on the Texans. The Titans came back to win on Saturday, and the Colts did the same on Sunday. Indianapolis got a scare, falling behind 14-0 to the Giants in the first quarter. They traded 27-21 late. But Andrew Luck led a game-winning drive, capped by a touchdown pass to Chester Rogers in final two minutes.
The Colts and Titans are very much alive in the AFC South and the wild-card race, and they play next Sunday in what could end up being a pseudo playoff game.
C.J. Anderson: It had to feel pretty good for Anderson to reemerge on Sunday.
Anderson was signed earlier this week, and most players aren’t trusted with a role after just a few days. But Anderson was always known as a sharp mind and a professional in his time with the Denver Broncos. Still, it was a bit of a shock when he started in place of injured Todd Gurley.
And Anderson, who got barely any playing time this season behind Christian McCaffrey in Carolina and was cut, had a huge game for the Rams as they ran over the Arizona Cardinals. Anderson had 167 yards and a touchdown in a 31-9 win. It’s not like the Rams had nothing to play for either, as they needed a win to stay ahead of the Bears for a first-round bye.
Anderson is just 27, but could have faded away after a silent season in Carolina. His huge game Sunday will probably help when he becomes a free agent next offseason.
Adam Gase: He didn’t do himself any favors Sunday.
The Miami Dolphins were practically eliminated from the wild-card race a week ago, but still had a mathematical possibility of getting in. They were facing a Jaguars team that had mostly quit, playing well one time since the early weeks of the season. And Miami lost 17-7, at home. Now they’re officially eliminated.
Gase came to Miami, hailed as a young offensive genius. That hasn’t happened. What happened on Sunday hasn’t been unusual for the Dolphins. A plodding offense was again unable to generate many big plays. Make any excuse for Gase, from the quarterback to the pieces around him, but Gase hasn’t delivered what he was supposed to.
If the Dolphins were already considering firing Gase after the season, Sunday didn’t help his cause.
Winston’s final line on Sunday looked fine, with 336 yards and a touchdown. But if you watched, you knew that he was ineffective as the Cowboys cruised to a 27-20 win. A lot of Winston’s stats came late after the game was wrapped up. The biggest play of the game came when Winston was hit from behind and his fumble was returned for a touchdown by Jaylon Smith. Most quarterbacks would have fumbled on that blind-side hit by Randy Gregory, but it was another example of Winston’s crushing turnovers.
What will the Buccaneers do? Perhaps ownership will overhaul the front office, and new decision-makers who didn’t invest the first overall pick in Winston might not want to give him an extension. Winston will be in the final year of his rookie contract next season.
The past few weeks haven’t been great for Winston, whose off-field incidents will factor in any decision about his future, and he’s finishing the season with as much uncertainty as ever.
The Lions’ defensive effort on the Vikings’ Hail Mary: The Lions played the Vikings’ Hail Mary at the end of the first half so poorly, it looked like Kirk Cousins and Kyle Rudolph were playing pitch and catch.
That’s nothing surprising for the Lions this season. They looked OK for a little bit and then rolled over in a 27-9 loss to the Vikings. The offense looked pathetic again, as Matthew Stafford sinks deeper into his career-worst season. The defense, supposedly head coach Matt Patricia’s specialty, gave up 360 yards including 122 by Rudolph, who has been quiet all season.
Many sunny theories will be pitched about Patricia, about how he had to get his system in place and the players to fit it. But, yet again on Sunday, nothing happened on the field to show he’s leading Detroit in the right direction.
That fake punt by the Steelers, and their suddenly dire playoff hopes: Nothing the Steelers needed to happen in Week 16, for their playoff scenarios, came through. That includes beating the New Orleans Saints.
A fake punt call in the fourth quarter will be dissected forever. The Steelers didn’t get the first down on a dive up the middle, the Saints took over possession and drove for a game-winning touchdown. The Steelers seemed in control at that point. A fake punt seemed like an unnecessary gamble. They lost 31-28, with JuJu Smith-Schuster’s fumble at the end being the final blow.
The Ravens won on Saturday. So did the Titans. The Colts won on Sunday. Because the Colts and Titans play in Week 17, and both teams are 9-6, the 8-6-1 Steelers have no shot at a wild-card spot unless the Colts-Titans game ends in a tie. Because the Ravens got the upset win against the Chargers on Sunday, the Ravens enter Week 17 with a half-game lead for first place in the AFC North over the Steelers. The Steelers need the Browns to beat Baltimore next week to have a shot at the division title.
Amazingly, the Steelers face the possibility of going from a 7-2-1 start to out of the playoffs. Add on the controversy over the fake punt and Mike Tomlin isn’t going to feel very comfortable once the season ends, unless some things break right for Pittsburgh next Sunday.
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