PHILADELPHIA — Nick Foles says he’s a natural optimist. The transfer from Michigan State, a disappointing performance at the 2012 NFL combine and an offensive system this season that doesn’t seem to fit his abilities?
Opportunities, the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback said, not hard times.
But the past two games have been different, and he admits that much. The past two weeks, he has combined for 10 passing touchdowns, including seven against Oakland to tie an NFL record. He hasn’t thrown an interception in 136 attempts this season. Heck, the young passer who ran a 5.14-second 40-yard dash before the draft last year even averaged nearly five yards on eight carries in a win Sunday against Green Bay.
No, when it comes to this, Foles said he is a realist.
“I know it’s hard to play at this level every game,” he said, standing at his locker stall this week at the Eagles’ practice facility. “I don’t know of a quarterback in the history of the game that has. I understand that.”
He acknowledged that mistakes are inevitable — a bad pass, a poor half, a disappointing game — but he said he’ll be defined by how he handles it. Which is why so many eyes are on him in Philadelphia and beyond. First-year Coach Chip Kelly has held off on naming Foles his full-time starter, and there are numerous possibilities for this. Is it because Kelly still prefers Michael Vick, the 33-year-old veteran with an injured hamstring, to run an up-tempo, high-speed scheme that relies on a mobile quarterback? Or that Kelly, who has built a coaching career on science and logic, simply doesn’t see the point in revealing his choice?
“Why does it really matter who I say is the starter?” Kelly asked reporters this week.
But the most believable reason is that Foles’s top failure this season is that he hasn’t often failed. Other than responding to a poor performance against Dallas, he hasn’t yet shown the ability to make in-game adjustments, partly because recently he hasn’t had to.
For Foles’s part, he has handled plenty of obstacles in the past. He signed with Michigan State in 2007 and transferred to Arizona after one season for warmer weather and more likely playing time. Among other things the next three seasons, he made an impression on his future coach by playing his best games against Oregon, where Kelly was building a national power. Foles averaged 387 passing yards in three losses to the Ducks, and it was perhaps enough later to earn Foles a chance when Kelly replaced Andy Reid, who had drafted Foles a year earlier in the third round.
Each time he faced adversity, Foles saw a chance to prove himself.
“I look at it like here’s an opportunity to get better,” he said. “Saying, ‘Here we go again’ doesn’t fix anything. I’m going to be in this situation regardless, so why not look at it with an optimistic attitude?”
Vick beat out Foles to start the season, but Vick has been unable to stay healthy, forcing the second-year passer into the starting lineup the past four games. And though many in Philadelphia speculate the Eagles’ quarterback of the future isn’t yet on the roster, the way Foles has played recently — he has pushed his team with superhuman performances into a first-place tie with Dallas — how could Kelly justify benching him?
Foles said he doesn’t need Kelly to name him the permanent starter, adding that if his coach thinks it’s important to keep things vague, that’s fine with Foles.
“I trust my head coach,” he said. “And whatever he says, I’ll follow him.”
In an unusual way, Foles said even he is interested in how he handles difficulties — when they come, not if. If the Washington Redskins continue pestering Foles on Sunday in Philadelphia — he threw three picks against Washington in two games last season — then he hopes to learn from his mistakes and prove his ability to adjust, even during a game.
“The big thing is: know why it happened,” he said. “Maybe I threw it and the safety cut a route and he picked it. I’m like, ‘All right, I saw that. Now let’s not let that happen again.’
“So I learn from it. I don’t let it beat me up. I learn from the situation, and I go back out there. I’ve seen it before; I’m not going to make that mistake again.”
Foles also has worked to become a better fit in Kelly’s offense, which gained 322 yards in the first half against Washington in the season’s opening week — albeit with Vick as Philadelphia’s quarterback. Vick gained 54 yards on nine rushes at FedEx Field on that Monday night, adding 203 passing yards and showing the unpredictability that became a Kelly hallmark at Oregon.
But Vick’s hamstring injury has lingered, leading the coach to call fewer designed runs for the 6-foot-6 Foles and lean more on Foles’s reliance on deep passes. So far, so good.
“Sometimes you feel really good about yourself, and you throw a ball out there that you shouldn’t,” said Foles, who threw into coverage against the Packers early in Sunday’s contest, watching as two defenders deflected it, then Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson caught the tipped ball and strolled into the end zone. It was a risk, but somehow it worked.
So is he lucky or good? That’s what the Eagles hope to find out.
“When adversity hits in the game, maybe an interception happens or fumble or something happens, the game is not over,” he said. “You have to continue to play. If there is a game where I throw two interceptions, I expect to go out there and throw some touchdowns to make up for it.
“That’s where the optimism comes in.”