PHILADELPHIA — With the sideline still erupting around him, Nick Foles chugged a cup of Gatorade, tossed it in the blue waste bin behind the Eagles bench and tussled the hair of injured quarterback Carson Wentz.
A tablet tucked in his left hand, he sat down to look at what he’d just done on the small screen while a sold out crowd of 70,000 collectively prepared itself for the most outlandish binge Philadelphia has seen since November of 2009. This was always going to be a game that hinged on one offensive haymaker, and Foles delivered a right hook to Minnesota’s kidney just before halftime. One second left on the play clock, 1:18 left in the second quarter, third-and-10 from the Eagles’ 45-yard line.
He dropped back but quickly ascended into a crowded pocket. Everson Griffen shoved Halapoulivaati Vaitai into Foles’s backside and swiped at the ball. Daniel Hunter was closing in. Neither of them were in position to see a massive coverage breakdown that freed up receiver Alshon Jeffery, who was streaking toward the end zone by himself. The ball arrived beautifully in stride and the Eagles were up by 14 points with a championship caliber defense, the ball to start the second half and Case Keenum on the other sideline.
Imagine spotting a town that’d already been drinking for more than 12 hours another 30 minutes of euphoria. At that moment, the Eagles had locked up their third Super Bowl appearance in franchise history and everyone knew it.
Coaches can make adjustments at halftime. The collective mood of a downtrodden team can rise. But the Vikings were not prepared for this offense, which kept using their mild-mannered backup to perforate a Minnesota secondary clearly expecting the Eagles to downshift and run out the final two quarters. An emboldened Doug Pederson doubled down. Foles flashed a comfort he has not steadily displayed in half a decade.
On their first drive of the second half, Foles went deep again on a flea flicker. Torrey Smith froze cornerback Trae Waynes, who bit on a seven-yard stop route and couldn’t catch up once Smith accelerated again. Another perfect pass arced in, this time right at the pylon, just ahead of the collision point between Smith, Waynes and safety Harrison Smith desperately closing over the top.
All of a sudden, this was not the plodding backup who embodied the Eagles’ weaknesses after the injury to Wentz in early December. There is no way to tell if Pederson can replicate this again in two weeks, but he was more than content putting it on film. Just something for his final opponent of the season to consider.
A New England Patriots team that barely edged the Blake Bortles-led Jaguars now has to prepare for the greatest unknown remaining in the NFL postseason. Foles finished the night 26-of-33 for 352 yards and three touchdowns.
After the last touchdown, a five-yard slant to Jeffery in the end zone, Foles walked back to a receiving line of hugs from the coaching staff. He stepped back on the field to wave a few members of the extra point team back to the sideline following a scuffle and started back toward Wentz. Wentz shoved Foles hard on his left shoulder, trying to elicit more of a reaction from the quarterback who had accomplished something truly spectacular, downing the league’s No. 1 defense in the NFC championship game.
Foles lingered for a minute before walking back toward the cooler. He chugged another Gatorade, picked up his tablet, paced a few steps and sat down to take a look.