When the Philadelphia Eagles, the top seeded team in the NFC and owners of a 13-3 record, neared their divisional round home game against the sixth seeded Atlanta Falcons, most experts said that the Eagles wouldn’t win for one reason- the perceived inconsistency and inexperience of backup-turned-starting quarterback Nick Foles. The next week against Minnesota, the visiting Vikings were favored mainly for the same reason- Nick Foles. Two weeks later, the Eagles entered their Super Bowl matchup against the New England Patriots as heavy underdogs and it was because few thought that Tom Brady, the league’s MVP and arguably the greatest quarterback of all-time, could be defeated by Nick Foles. Well, the Eagles won the Super Bowl, and one of the main reasons that they hoisted the trophy is Nick Foles.
If we learned anything this season, it is that any player can catch fire and play at an MVP level. The playoff picture was littered with perennial cellar dwellers, from Buffalo to Los Angeles. In a season filled with injuries to MVP candidates, the final four quarterbacks left were Tom Brady, the league’s MVP, plus a trio of quarterbacks in Blake Bortles, Case Keenum, and Nick Foles that would not even start under center for most teams. So it was a fitting finale to the season when Foles, on his third team in three years, led the Eagles to an upset over one of the greatest sports dynasties we’ve ever seen.
One year ago, the Eagles were 7-9, Nick Foles was the third-string quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs, the Jaguars, Bills, Saints, and Rams were picking near the top of the NFL Draft, and the Patriots looked like a lock to repeat their Super Bowl title. By week one, the demolition of the NFL hierarchy had begun. The Chiefs ran all over the Patriots in a 42-27 rout in the Patriots’ stadium. A couple weeks later, the Eagles, Vikings, Saints, Rams, Ravens, and Jaguars were atop their divisions, each teams that failed to make the playoffs the previous season.
Though traditional powers like the Patriots and Steelers rolled into the playoffs, the postseason saw eight new teams to the playoffs. Buffalo made the playoffs for the first time since 1999 with assistance from a shocking Baltimore loss in Week 17, though they lost to the Jaguars, who hadn’t made the playoffs since 2007. The Los Angeles Rams used a 32-year-old rookie head coach (Sean McVay) and his second-year, unproven quarterback (Jared Goff) to win its first NFC West crown since 2003. New Orleans, a team mired in mediocrity with three straight 7-9 seasons, suddenly became a Super Bowl contender thanks to its running game and defense, a shocking formula for a team led by quarterback Drew Brees. The NFC’s top two seeds were Philadelphia and Minnesota, both teams that were starting backup quarterbacks. It made the Browns’ 0-16 season look predictable.
What made these teams so surprising as the season rolled along was that even after they were written off, they defied the odds and succeeded. Philadelphia was the prime example. When MVP candidate Carson Wentz suffered a season-ending knee injury, the Eagles’ chances at the team’s first Super Bowl seemed to evaporate. Despite holding the top seed, Philadelphia seemed the least likely team to reach the Super Bowl of the six in the NFC and were underdogs against the lowest-seeded team in their conference.
All of this made Nick Foles’ epic three-game stretch all the more incredible. But to understand the magnitude of the stretch, you have to understand his origins. Football history is littered with under-the-radar heroes who emerge from the shadows to become all-time greats. Kurt Warner went from a staffer at a grocery store to MVP of the Super Bowl in a matter of months and Tom Brady went from sixth round pick to a five-time Super Bowl champion. But Foles is different. A couple years ago, Foles enjoyed one of the more remarkable seasons in NFL history, throwing 27 touchdowns and 2 interceptions and tying an NFL record with seven touchdown passes in a game. But he faded to obscurity, falling victim to injury the next season and faded into backup roles with the Rams and Chiefs. He was the guy who had his fifteen minutes of glory and seemed done.
Then Carson Wentz went down and Nick Foles got his chance. His starts in the Eagles’ final regular season games were unimpressive, but once the playoffs started, he played his ‘A’ game. Against Atlanta, Foles posted an excellent 100.3 passer rating and was surprisingly accurate and efficient in a 15-10 win. The next week against the best defense in football, he played even better, throwing three touchdowns to no interceptions in a 38-7 victory. Yet many experts (myself included) said that there was no way Nick Foles, a journeyman backup, could beat Tom Brady in the Super Bowl and predicted an easy Patriots victory.
Instead, the Eagles’ Cinderella season culminated in a storybook ending. The Eagles, coached by Doug Pederson (a former backup for Brett Favre), attacked the Patriots with trick plays, fourth-down attempts and risky play calling. It worked. The Eagles played mistake-free football and scored on their first three possessions to go up 15-3, including a picture-perfect 34-yard touchdown pass by Foles to receiver Alshon Jeffery. Then, at the end of the first half a yard away from the goal line, Philly ran a trick play and Foles caught a touchdown pass to give the Eagles a 22-12 halftime lead.
Even as Brady and the Patriots battled back, Foles stayed poised. The Eagles kept pace with New England’s high-powered offense, but with just over nine minutes remaining, the Patriots scored a touchdown to take a 33-32 lead. Foles put the Eagles on his back and led them on the drive of his life, completing eight out of ten passes including a gutsy fourth down conversion. When tight end Zach Ertz dove across the goal line for the go-ahead touchdown, validating Nick Foles as a Super Bowl hero. When the Patriots’ comeback attempt was foiled, the Eagles became Super Bowl champions for the first time in franchise history, Nick Foles, the Super Bowl MVP, completed one of the greatest underdog stories in Super Bowl history.
When this season started, I wouldn’t have considered that the Jags, Rams, Saints, and Bills would be in the playoffs. I couldn’t have imagined Blake Bortles almost carrying Jacksonville to the Super Bowl, or Case Keenum heaving a miraculous Hail Mary pass to beat the Saints. And I never would have believed that the Eagles, a team I love to hate, would win the Super Bowl with Nick Foles at the helm. But it all happened, and I’m still in shock. It taught me that anyone can play at an MVP level, even on the greatest of stages, and become an all-time great.
But I’m fairly certain what will happen next year. Dallas Cowboys, Super Bowl LIII Champs!