Nick Foles, rookie quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles made his first NFL start in Week 11, after his regular-season debut was made necessary a week earlier by a Michael Vick concussion. Foles has started two more games since and, according to Head Coach Andy Reid, will finish the last quarter of the season in that role.
That first start for Foles was not the most pleasant experience, as his team lost at Washington, 31-6, and he threw two interceptions while completing only 45.7% of his passes. The following weekend, however, Foles' completion rate jumped to 76.2%, his passer rating improved from 40.5 the week before to 89.2 and his team was much more competitive in a 30-22 loss to Carolina. And last week, in a shootout 38-33 loss at Dallas, the former University of Arizona star had his best game yet, completing 22 of 34 aerials for 251 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions and a 96.6 passer rating.
The Eagles' playoff hopes essentially evaporated over those three weeks, as they have fallen to 3-9 and into a tie for the worst record in the NFC. However, there is still plenty of important work the Eagles can establish in the final month of the season, and one of them is getting a solid read on Foles' long-term viability as a starter. That answer is still in development, of course, but Reid is pleased so far, simply because he can see significant week-to-week progress.
"He's obviously a young guy, he's a rookie," said Reid. "He's got good size, he's got a big arm, he's a smart kid and he works very hard. What he's done is, he's gotten better each week, and that's all I ask from him as the season goes on, to just continue to improve your game and work hard and put your team in a position to win football games."
The 6-5, 243-pound Foles does indeed have prototypical size for an NFL franchise quarterback, and in addition to his strong arm he showed excellent accuracy on short and immediate throws in Arizona's spread offense. Scouts preparing for the draft worried about his slow release and his lack of scrambling ability, which may have attributed to him going in the third round, behind the likes of Ryan Tannehill, Russell Wilson, Brandon Weeden and Brock Osweiler.
When asked to scout himself, however, Foles points to a less tangible reason for his success.
"I've played football since I was a little kid, so I love the game," he said. "I have a feel for the game. That's one of those awkward questions they ask you at the combine, but I think my strength is my love for the game. I love going out there and playing with my teammates, and the rest takes care of itself. There's a lot of preparation involved, a lot of teamwork, a lot of leadership, but I think most importantly you have to have a respect for the game and a love for the people you play with."
Foles could be forgiven for being uncomfortable as a rookie in Philadelphia this year, given the team's surprising drop in the standings and the rumors of change that come with such a season. On the contrary, however, he has enjoyed the atmosphere in the Eagles' locker room and hasn't sensed any of his teammates giving up on the season.
"When seasons go like this, sometimes teams tend to drift apart," said Foles. "But this is a special place to play. Of course we'd like to have a lot more wins but this is what it is and we're taking everything day by day. The guys have stuck together. We've had a few injuries, like everybody does, and guys have stepped in and worked their butts off and really stuck together. And that says a lot about this team, this organization and this coaching staff, that we're going to continue to work hard and stick together."
In addition to Vick and his concussion, the Eagles have been without explosive running back LeSean McCoy for several weeks, and their number-one receiver, DeSean Jackson just went to injured reserve. Foles has stepped in for Vick and Bryce Brown has been a revelation in McCoy's place, and the Eagles have continued to fight hard, according to their rookie quarterback.
"I can tell you I'm going to work as hard as I can and I know the team's going to work as hard as we can to continue to stick together through the thick and thin," he said. "That's what I know. I feel like we have a great group of guys and we work well together. It's fun being a player here and I love it. It's a great working environment."
Foles credits Reid with creating such an environment. Obviously, some of those aforementioned rumors have revolved around the head coach's future, but Foles has thoroughly enjoyed working for Reid.
"Coach Reid is a very strong man," said the rookie passer. "He's gone through a lot this year and it's amazing how strong he's been through it. He's a great role model just to watch how he handles everything. I know he loves this team. He's been with this team for so long and been so successful here. He is the Eagles. When he drafted me, it was the place I wanted to go and I'm so thankful to be here with Coach Reid. I can't say enough about him. We're just going to keep working as hard as we can for him, stick together, and stay as a family."
With that kind of approach, the Eagles can still finish the season strong, even if the playoffs are all but impossible. And if Foles himself can continue to improve week by week, he'll have a very good shot at holding onto the job in 2013.