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Nick Foles' record day keeps Philadelphia Eagles in playoff hunt

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PHILADELPHIA -- "This," the security guard watching on a tiny screen said, "is some 'Rocky' s---."

And it was certainly special, Philly.

With their season teetering on the brink of irrelevance, with Nick Foles having returned from being splayed on his back at his own goal line after Jadeveon Clowney slammed his helmet into the quarterback's chest (Foles missed all of one play), the Philadelphia Eagles faced the moment that would define their season. A failure at this juncture -- a failure to fend off the leaking Houston Texans -- would have meant a whimpering end to the Eagles' Super Bowl defense.

But there's a statue of Foles and Eagles coach Doug Pederson outside Lincoln Financial Field for a reason -- because they certainly have their own cinematic flair for the dramatic. So with 45 seconds left in the game, the Eagles facing third-and-10 from their own 45-yard line and the Philadelphia crowd roaring, Foles sent a ball to the right sideline. Two Texans defenders collided, allowing Zach Ertz to be alone, stumbling but wide open, when the pass arrived. Ertz pulled it in and -- tripping and staggering -- had the presence of mind to roll out of bounds after gaining 20 yards.

After a 16-yard run by the ageless Darren Sproles two plays later, Jake Elliott walked onto the field. Merrill Reese, the legendary Eagles radio man, ordered fans to "Hold your breath!"

And then the 35-yard boot was good and the Eagles had survived a wild fourth quarter in which they extended their lead to 13 points, then lost the lead completely, and then won 32-30 to keep their playoff hopes alive. If you cannot imagine more of this to come, then maybe you were born after the Super Bowl earlier this year.

"I thought they were going to bury him next to the statue outside," Chris Long said of seeing Foles on his back, his arms stretched wide, the breath knocked out of him and nearly the entire season. "They were going to have the statue and then like a little tomb for him."

That would have been fitting, since the Eagles have been nearly dead and buried a few times this season, particularly during the stretch when they lost five of seven games and all but surrendered the NFC East title. But they are 8-7 now, and winners of four of their last five going into the final week of the regular season with the playoffs still in reach. The Dallas Cowboys clinched the division title Sunday, but with a little help, and a victory over the Washington Redskins, the Eagles and Foles could go back to the playoffs and send a shiver of recognition through the rest of the NFC.

It's worth noting that Long has a little shrine to Foles in his locker, and whatever voodoo they have seems to be working.

"You all are looking at me crazy, but I think that's what put us over the top," Long said.

This is the second straight season during which Foles has inspired this kind of magical thinking, and delivered such magical results. It is why the Eagles revised Foles' contract this offseason to include major per-game incentives in the case they needed him to step in again for Wentz. Because he can throw for a franchise-record 471 yards and four touchdowns -- including an audible that resulted in an 83-yard touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor -- against the Texans' decimated secondary. Because he can return from a hit that sent him into the X-ray room after the game. Because the Eagles are feeling so good right now that after the team meandered through a mostly bewildering season, Pederson sauntered to the podium for his press conference with a little smirk.

"That's just Nick," Pederson said. "Always been calm in and around, his preparation during the week, leading up to the game, he's a guy that just wants to help the team win. Just put it in our playmakers' hands. Really not get much credit, just let the others guy do it. Even after taking that hit, it took a lot of courage and guts at that point to want to finish the game and come back in."

Foles is 3-1 as a starter this season and you can expect another week of hot takes about why the Eagles have performed better with him this season than with Wentz. The reality is that the season had started to turn several weeks before Wentz's back injury forced him to the sideline and gave Foles his opening again. The defense has forced more turnovers, the offense has surrendered fewer of them, and the Eagles are finally playing complementary football again, just in time.

"These last three, four, five games, things have picked up for us," Pederson said. "I do feel this time of year, if you want any kind of momentum, if you get a chance to go to the postseason, you need to be playing your best football now, and I think that's what we're doing."

The Eagles, of course, cannot afford to look backward with so much riding on the game at Washington next Sunday. But there is already a strain of nostalgia running through Foles' renaissance. He is expected to be a free agent after the season and he is, clearly, creating quite a market for himself. He has already been immortalized in a statue, but that these ripped-from-a-movie-script moments could be his final ones in an Eagles jersey is enough to make some of the less reality-based Eagles fans wonder whether they'd rather have Foles than Wentz. Foles, too, thought Sunday might be his last game here.

"It's emotional," he said. "I don't think about the future, but I am aware of that because this city means a lot to me, this team means a lot to me, wearing that jersey means a lot to me. A couple weeks ago when I ran out of the tunnel, I didn't expect to play. I'm there to support the team and do what I can. I got emotional then because I knew that there's a chance it's coming to an end. This was a special one tonight. I don't know what the future holds. I'm not going to worry about it. I'm just going to focus on now, enjoy just being in Philadelphia, enjoy the people, enjoy wearing this jersey because it's some of the most special moments of my life."

The turns of fortune in this are an illustration of how elusive success and momentum are in the NFL. Just four weeks ago, the Texans were the hottest team in the league, winners of nine straight. But they have lost two of their last three games and their secondary has been a sieve for the last month. Sunday's loss allowed the New England Patriots to vault the Texans to take over the No. 2 seed in the AFC for now, potentially giving the Patriots a first-round bye and forcing the Texans to play on Wild Card Weekend. Incredibly, Houston still has not clinched the AFC South.

Whenever they play in the postseason, the Texans are in deep trouble. They are down three cornerbacks, their starting running back, Lamar Miller, sat out the game with an ankle injury, their No. 2 receiver, Demaryius Thomas, is believed to have torn his Achilles tendon Sunday, Deshaun Watson is under nearly constant siege and, other than Watson's scrambling ability, the Texans have no rushing attack.

And now, victimized by Foles, they have the Patriots' Twitter account trolling them, as the NFC looks on in horror.

After the latest gift Foles gave Philadelphia, it's going to be a long time before there are any snowballs thrown at this St. Nick.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @judybattista.

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