PHILADELPHIA -- The most popular player in Philadelphia trotted onto the field with the offense, chin strap buckled, ears closed. There were seven minutes, 41 seconds left before halftime, and the majority of the packed Lincoln Financial Field crowd was on its feet.
Suddenly, the game belonged to Nick Foles, the shaggy-haired, doe-eyed rookie backup to Philadelphia Eagles starter Michael Vick. Asked if he heard the ovation, Foles shook his head. "I sort of just zoned everything out," he said. And that's understandable. His plate was full.
With a team to carry, the hopes of a starving and furious city resting on his shoulders, Foles had more than enough occupying his attention. The beleaguered Vick (who had been playing well, leading a scoring drive) had suffered a concussion, and the city's prayers had been answered.
Then Foles started playing, and little changed. A promising rookie, yes. But not a superhero. Not yet, at least. And so, after the Dallas Cowboys whipped the Eagles in all three phases of a 38-23 contest that Vick deemed the "Desperation Bowl," the Philadelphia faithful had their worst nightmare. The savior didn't save. Instead of coming together, everything continued to come apart, and we learned that the Eagles have more problems than Vick or coach Andy Reid, for that matter. The issues are everywhere. It's why the walls are caving in Philadelphia.
"This is our deal," said tight end Brent Celek, who had three catches for 31 yards. "The fact that we are not successful at it right now, the fact that we are not doing well, it hurts. You don't feel like a professional. People in the city are pissed off and we are pissed off. We have to fix it."
How bad is the atmosphere in Philly? Even before the game ended, a group of fans on the 50-yard-line unfurled a banner that read, "Andy: Quit. Your team has." Charming.
Asked about the rest of the season, defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins waved it off.
"We have to get a win first," said Jenkins, who seemed on the verge of tears. "It's been a while since we won a game. We have to figure out how to get a win before we can think about anything else."
If the Eagles were desperate before, what are they now? If four losses in a row led to their backs-against-the-wall attitude, what does five in a row do? It leaves them helpless.
"I've never been through anything like this," said receiver Riley Cooper, who had a touchdown.
Foles was fine, completing 22 of his 32 passes for 219 yards with a touchdown and a pick-six by Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr. In fact, he threw for more yards than any prior Eagles rookie passer. Foles entered the game with the score tied at seven. In the third quarter, he found Jeremy Maclin for a 44-yard score to take a 14-10 lead. And the Eagles actually added a field goal to extend the lead to 17-10. But then it all came apart in the blink of an eye. First came Tony Romo's 30-yard touchdown toss to Dez Bryant. Then Dwayne Harris' 78-yard punt return for a Cowboys touchdown. And finally, Foles' pick-six. Twenty-one points in three minutes.
Perhaps more distressing is that the team treated Foles with training wheels. On third-and-15 in the third quarter, Foles handed off to Bryce Brown. That play call was not an endorsement.
"Not good enough to win," Foles said of his play. "Made some mistakes. I can't turn the ball over and that's the most important thing to win games. I turned it over twice and they ended up being touchdowns and I can't do that. But that's a learning experience. I'm going to learn from it and get better. Can't have that."
"Last year was pretty rocky," Maclin said, "but to be sitting here 3-6 is not what anyone envisioned or planned."
Vick's status is up in the air. While fans seemed thrilled to see Foles, teammates seemed saddened to see Vick injured.
"Mike is my guy," Cooper said, crestfallen and hopeless.
What now? The Eagles face some real questions. When will Vick be healthy? No answers on Sunday. What if Foles starts next week and stars? A dream situation for Reid, as he'll have a young quarterback to groom for the future -- if he's here for it. What if Foles starts next week and fails? It means if Vick is healthy, Reid can make him the starter again. But if Vick isn't ready for an extended period of time, they are stuck with Foles. And they all may be starting anew in 2013.
What if? What if? What if? Philadelphia's 2012 season. Questions unanswered, as the Eagles act like professionals and keep going.
"You don't know in this league," Reid said. "You keep battling."
What else is going on? Here's a rundown:
The Saints can run
It's clear the dog days in New Orleans are over. Sure, the bounty scandal is still ongoing, and that's not good news. But here's some: The Saints are a playoff contender. After Sunday's 31-27 win over the Atlanta Falcons -- which ruined the NFC South rival's perfect season -- Drew Brees and his Who Dats are 4-5, winners of four of five, and very real. The most glaring thing to me? They can run the ball. When did this happen?
Interim coach Joe Vitt unleashed Chris Ivory against the Eagles one week ago on Monday Night Football, and Ivory was back at it on Sunday. Seven carries, 72 yards, with a 56-yard scoring blast. Former first-rounder Mark Ingram had a steady 16 carries for 67 yards. If you were wondering why Brees was so efficient -- 21 of 32 for 298 yards and three scores with one interception -- this is a good reason. If you were wondering how tight end Jimmy Graham gets open enough to reel in a 46-yard catch in the fourth quarter, the answer lies in increased attention to the run.
Turns out, Vitt wasn't lying when he said this past week that the running backs were "underutilized early in the season." Suddenly, the offense is multifaceted. And down the stretch, when they need to have it, even Drew Brees' Saints need to run.
This kind of prolific production on the ground is something the Falcons can appreciate. On second-and-1 on the New Orleans 1 with two minutes to go, Atlanta had such little confidence in its ground game that it ran just once -- for minus-one yard -- over the next three downs. Two passes were incomplete. And the Saints had their win.
Manning's tired arm?
Only Eli Manning knows if his arm is really tired. And chances are, we'll never actually know. What we do know is the New York Giants quarterback has hit a lull -- right around the time of his team's traditional November swoon. The G-Men lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers last week, with Manning going 10 of 24 for 125 yards with an interception. But his issues started during a defensive win over the Cowboys the game before. In Sunday's 31-13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, he averaged 4.7 yards per attempt. Over the last three games, Manning hasn't been himself. Asked about the status of his prized wing, Manning said, "If my arm were tired, I would tell the coaches, and we would shut down some throws or throw a little bit less."
Perhaps. Perhaps not. Few want to show weakness, and Manning isn't alone in being prideful. To a naked eye, it looks at least like the Super Bowl hero doesn't have confidence in throwing it deep. Regardless, if Big Blue wants to avoid another November swoon, Manning needs to fix it. Because the more he struggles, the faster the questions will come. Good thing the Giants have a bye: With the Cowboys hosting the Browns this week, that NFC East is already tighter than it seemed it would be.
It's about time Norv Turner got angry
As if reality wasn't real enough in San Diego, Chargers coach Norv Turner is now asking reporters to answer their own questions. After the ugly 34-24 defeat to the suddenly surging Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Turner was asked if the result is unacceptable. His fiery answer was this: "What do you think?! You answer that! Is it acceptable? No, it's not acceptable. You know the answer to that. Is it acceptable having a blocked punt and having an interception returned for a touchdown? No, that's not what we're trying to accomplish out there."
OK, then. Turner is fuming. As he should be. With all that talent, including a star quarterback in Philip Rivers, there is no way the mistake-prone Chargers should be 4-5. For so long in San Diego, status quo has been OK. It's probably a good sign that Turner has reached his limit: His boiling point is near that of his fan base.
And yet, they've been in this situation before. All that talent, all those losses. Listen to what the Chargers did on Sunday: Held the ball for nearly 37 minutes, had 337 yards passing, converted 66 percent on third down, gained 103 yards rushing, committed just one penalty.
In other words, their talent did enough. Did their coaching?
Lots of decisions to be made in San Diego.
Some rapid fire takes:
» The feel-good story of St. Louis Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins took a left turn when he was inactive for Sunday's game for violating team rules. There are few details. St. Louis is following through on its promise of watching Jenkins closely; he won't receive endless chances.
» I guess we can call off the search party for the guy formerly known as Christian Ponder. The Minnesota Vikings quarterback showed up against the Lions, going 24-for-32 with 221 yards passing and two scores. It seems the curse of his girlfriend, TV reporter Samantha Steele, has been solved. Ponder was priceless afterward: "I'd like to thank my girlfriend, because she obviously has a big impact on how I play."
» Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick referred to New England Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes as "a punk at times." He also referred to Spikes as "not one of my favorite players, not high on my list." Guess someone is doing his job. Middle linebackers aren't supposed to be liked.
» Watch enough Buffalo Bills games, and you feel like there really might be a curse. A fourth-quarter fumble by Fred Jackson inches before the goal line? An end-zone throw to a phantom receiver that ended up in Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty's hands to seal the game? The football gods were not friendly to Buffalo Bills fans on Sunday. Been that way for a while.
» Well, A.J. Green, if you're going to boast about seeing holes in the Giants defense, might as well have 85 yards receiving and a touchdown. Talk all the trash you want if you back it up and take down the Super Bowl champs.
» If the Seattle Seahawks played all of their games at home, they'd be something like 14-2. That's the most intense home-field advantage around. Just ask New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, who was a paltry 9-for-22 for 124 yards with a pick and a fumble.
» Speaking of the Jets, let's consider the quarterback situation. Sanchez was woeful again Sunday, and he's turned the ball over twice in five of the last seven games. The talent around him is inadequate on many levels, but he isn't getting it done. He's one of the NFL's worst quarterbacks, statistically. Yet asked about detractors who say the Jets should make a change, cornerback Antonio Cromartie said, "They can kiss my a--. Mark is our quarterback." Think that's because he watches Tim Tebow in practice?
» J.J. Watt headed into Sunday night looking to show the world the Houston Texans' defense is the league's best. After watching Houston outslug the Chicago Bears in Soldier Field, who wants to argue? And don't tell me it would've been different if Jay Cutler (concussion) had played the whole game. He threw for 40 yards and two picks in the first half.
» Jake Locker was back for the Tennessee Titans, and his stats weren't pretty, but the effect he had on the 37-3 blowout of the Miami Dolphins was. Sure, Locker completed just nine of his 21 passes for 122 yards. But he did have two touchdown throws. And his legs gave the Titans a 20-yard rush on the touchdown drive that running back Chris Johnson capped off to make it 14-0. Those same legs gave Tennessee a conversion on fourth-and-2. A four-yard scramble on third-and-1 also helped. That extra dimension Locker adds to the offense is clutch.
» A little fumble-itis limited Dolphins running back Reggie Bush to four carries. Kudos to coach Joe Philbin for taking a stand against sloppy play. The Dolphins are competing for a playoff spot this year. But overall, they are building, and you need to play the right way. For his part, Bush accepted responsibility on Twitter: "I have to apologize to Dolphin Nation my performance these past few weeks has been poor & I'm embarrassed right now! You guys deserve better."
» I wouldn't spend too much time worrying about the Baltimore Ravens' touchdown-scoring fake field goal with a 24-point lead. Looks bad, I guess. But as coach John Harbaugh said, it was an automatic call based on a look the Oakland Raiders gave Baltimore. Nothing more, nothing less. The Raiders took it in stride, with cornerback Michael Huff saying, "We're grown men. If you run it, we've got to stop it."
» Nice job all week by Denver Broncos coach John Fox pretending his homecoming to Charlotte was just another game. Not quite. As the Charlotte Observer pointed out, up 15 with less than four minutes to go, the Broncos faced a third-and-7 from the 49. A draw in the cards? Nah. A deep, 46-yard toss from Peyton Manning to Demaryius Thomas just to rub it in. Yup, Fox wanted it. And got it.
» How are the Lions in last place again, like old times? They wasted a valuable opportunity on Sunday. And they are running out of time. Matthew Stafford does seem to wait until the fourth quarter of games. Maybe the fourth quarter of the season?
» Dear teams: Teach your players the overtime rules, and that games CAN end in a tie. Please.
Follow Ian Rapoport on Twitter @RapSheet.