Philadelphia Eagles  

 

Nick Foles completes fairy-tale run with title, Super Bowl MVP

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MINNEAPOLIS -- It's actually fitting that Eagles quarterback Nick Foles couldn't find New England's Tom Brady on the field in the wake of Super Bowl LII. As great as Brady has been throughout a Hall of Fame career -- and as well as he played in this contest -- it was best the recently crowned league MVP fade into the shadows on this night. Brady came into this game looking to cement a legacy that already included five championships. He left watching a lightly regarded backup finally have the chance to experience a moment that Brady knows all too well.

There are plenty of reasons why the Eagles upset the Patriots 41-33 in Super Bowl LII. The most obvious is that Foles literally played the best game of his life. It wasn't just the 373 yards and four touchdowns he produced (three passing, one receiving) -- it was the way he out-dueled Brady, who passed for a Super Bowl-record 505 yards and three touchdowns of his own.

This shootout had all the makings of another Brady comeback. In the end, he wound up watching the confetti fall on a quarterback who was so beleaguered at one point that he considered ending his career.

"I wasn't worrying about the scoreboard, I wasn't worrying about the time, I was just playing ball," said Foles, who was named Super Bowl MVP. "Sometimes you start worrying about that so much that it starts creeping into your brain. Whatever play (head coach) Doug (Pederson) called, I was going to go out there and rip it. That was our mindset going into this. We had to play a strong 60 minutes, and it took 60 minutes to win this game."

The best thing the Eagles did with Foles was continue to believe in him. They supported him when starting quarterback Carson Wentz sustained a season-ending knee injury and Eagles fans were booing Foles at home games. They cut Foles loose in the NFC Championship Game -- when he passed for 352 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-7 win over Minnesota -- and that turned out just fine, as well. So it only made sense that Pederson would keep riding this hot hand as far as it could take his team.

Foles set the tone early in the game by hitting Alshon Jeffery on a 34-yard touchdown pass with 2:34 left in the first quarter. Foles also led the Eagles on a six-play, 65-yard scoring drive that culminated in a 21-yard scoring run by LeGarrette Blount with 8:48 left in the second quarter. The Eagles even had some fun with their quarterback. With 34 seconds remaining in the first half, Foles lined up as a wingback and caught a 1-yard touchdown pass from tight end Trey Burton (who was faking a reverse after taking a pitch from running back Corey Clement).

That play, which put Philadelphia up 22-12 at halftime, proved how loose this group was on football's biggest stage. The performance Foles produced in the second half revealed how prepared he was to lead his team to a championship. When the Patriots' offense started rolling in the second half, Foles kept leading the Eagles to scores, as well. Instead of wilting under the pressure of watching Brady be Brady, Foles matched every move the future Hall of Famer made.

Anybody watching this game had to sense the Patriots were about to steal this contest after going ahead, 33-32, on a 4-yard pass from Brady to Rob Gronkowski with 9:22 left in the game. Instead, Foles executed a 14-play, 75-yard drive that ended with his 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end Zach Ertz.

"I'm so happy for Nick," Pederson said. "Like this football team, a lot of people counted him out and didn't think he could get this done. I believed in him. The staff believed in him. The players believed in him. We just needed time together to work out some things. This whole postseason Nick has shown exactly who he is and what he can do."

Pederson and his coaching staff deserve ample credit for the work they did with Foles, who has played on three teams over the last three years. They could've forced him to do many of the same things that made Wentz successful, but they chose to follow a different path. After Wentz went down during a win over the Los Angeles Rams on Dec. 10, Pederson and his coaches spent hours pondering the best way to use Foles. They even scoured tape of the 27 touchdown passes Foles threw when he was the Eagles' starter in 2013 -- under former coach Chip Kelly -- just to see what the quarterback did best.

Pederson already knew Foles was a gifted deep-ball thrower. What the coach also discovered was that the quarterback was just as comfortable with run-pass options. Even when Foles was struggling at the end of the regular season, he knew the coaches were adding more plays that suited his strengths. He just had to be ready when the critical moments arrived, because there was something obviously magical about this Eagles team.

That mindset is what endeared him to his teammates.

"The stage was never too big for him," Ertz said. "He did the same thing that we expected him to do tonight. To get into a shootout against [Brady] is probably not ideal for anyone ever. That guy is the best guy to ever play the game, and that team is phenomenal."

That is what makes this story all the more amazing. Yes, the Eagles' defense did step up in the end, with defensive end Brandon Graham sacking Brady and forcing a fumble that fellow end Derek Barnett recovered with 2:15 left in the game. However, that same defense was unable to stop Brady for most of this contest. If not for Foles and the Philadelphia offense, the Patriots easily could've run the Eagles out of U.S. Bank Stadium.

That didn't happen because the Eagles knew what Foles could do. He's been known his entire career as a player who runs hot and cold, someone who can be truly dangerous when he finds a rhythm. Just as Foles did against the Vikings, he showed the courage to fire the football into places where turnovers could've resulted. It said plenty about his ability that, time and again, those passes landed in just the right spots for his receivers to make critical grabs.

In fact, Foles has been on such a strong run during the postseason that one reporter asked him after the game when he knew a Super Bowl victory might be a possibility. He said he never allowed himself to think that far ahead.

"I was really staying in the moment," Foles said. "This was always the outcome and the goal. But I feel like if you put it on a pedestal, you start forgetting to do the little things -- the preparation, the practice. You start forcing balls because you're trying to play at a [certain] level. When this became reality is when we won the NFC Championship Game. I wasn't worrying about the next day. I was worrying about the moment, and that is what I was doing today -- doing everything in the moment to be successful. And the outcome was that we were world champs."

Foles added that he savored his time after the game with his wife, Tori, and daughter, Lily. Along with his deep religious faith, his family was one of the foundations that kept him moving when his career was careening toward a likely dead end. Few people saw Foles ever having a shot to be a starting quarterback in the NFL again. It's hard to think a month ago anybody was betting on him standing at the Super Bowl MVP podium.

Of course, there will be plenty of questions about what happens next. The Eagles already have their franchise quarterback, and NFL teams always have a deep appreciation for signal-callers who have Super Bowl wins on their resumes. The reality is that Foles is surely going to take his time moving on to that chapter of his story. For now, he's going to enjoy this fairy-tale ending for as long as he possibly can.

Follow Jeffri Chadiha on Twitter @jeffrichadiha.

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