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Premature Elimination: Nick Foles and the Eagles’ Magic Runs Out Against the Saints

Large-Appendaged Nick’s Eagles career will likely end with a pass that sailed through Alshon Jeffery’s hands before being picked off—a flukey play that’s as bizarre as the quarterback’s career itself

Divisional Round - Philadelphia Eagles v New Orleans Saints Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Perhaps it’s appropriate that Nick Foles’s run of magic ended on a play that wasn’t his fault. Between last postseason and the Eagles’ run to the playoffs this year, we’ve run out of ways to talk about his inexplicable career with Philly. He’s a deity. He’s magic. He’s a saint. He’s a superhero. He’s Big Dick Nick.

On Sunday against the Saints, the stage was set for our large-appendaged wizard to add another chapter to his legend. The Saints led by six but gave the ball back to Philly with 2:58 left. That seemed like the perfect amount of time for Foles to do what he does best: put together a remarkable, otherworldly, game-winning drive. He hit Zach Ertz for 16 yards, then the Saints picked up a roughing the passer penalty for another 15, and the Eagles were quickly to the Saints’ 27. Then, this happened:

Alshon Jeffery let a gimme reception fly right through his hands, and Saints defensive back Marshon Lattimore was there to make his second interception of the night. Three plays later, the Saints got a first down on an Alvin Kamara run, and the game was over, 20-14.

This is almost certainly how the Eagles’ Foles saga will come to an end. After his run to the Lombardi Trophy last season, Foles and Philly agreed to a restructured contract for the Super Bowl MVP that included increased incentives and, crucially, a mutual option that would pay the QB $20 million in 2019. Teams don’t pay $20 million for backup quarterbacks, no matter how much magic he’s packing, and Carson Wentz will be Philly’s starter next year. The final play of Foles’s Philadelphia career will almost certainly be that Jeffery drop, a play that would be completed 99 times out of 100. It’s a random, disorienting end to a chapter of NFL history—one that serves as a mirror to how this all started in the first place.

Foles’s run could never have lasted forever. The reason we so frequently go to the supernatural or fictional or religious to describe him is because every time he does this—no matter how many times he does this, really—it doesn’t seem believable. Foles played some of the best football anyone has ever seen last postseason, and he helped will the Eagles to an unlikely playoff berth this year. But expand the sample size out a bit, and it’s clear that those stretches of greatness are not emblematic of Foles’s career as a whole. Foles is no elite QB: Among active players, he is 17th in adjusted net yards per attempt and 20th in passer rating. Even if you include the postseason, when many QBs falter but Foles seems to shine, his ranks among active players don’t change much. Meanwhile, Wentz is just as good or better by virtually every statistic, and he’s cheaper and younger.

Outside of one season under Chip Kelly in 2013, Foles has mostly struggled. His first season in the league was lackluster, his third season with the Eagles saw an epic drop-off from those 2013 heights, and he never gained traction in St. Louis or Kansas City. We even forget that last year’s iconic postseason run is really about only two games—in Philly’s divisional round matchup against Atlanta, the Eagles scored just 15 points as Foles went 23-of-30 for 246 yards, zero touchdowns, and zero picks. Foles was incredible against the Vikings and Patriots, but that’s just two games—hardly a significant sample size.

I always assumed Foles’s run would end with him falling dramatically back to earth, and that did happen earlier in the Saints game. He ended up 18-of-31 for 201 yards, one touchdown, and two picks—a decidedly un-magical stat line—and he missed on passes in the fourth quarter when the Eagles were trying to mount a comeback. But he still had that chance at the end—a chance to add to his incredible legacy of clutch performances or fall flat for seemingly the first time. Instead, neither happened.

The pass that will mark the end of Foles’s Eagles magic wasn’t a climactic moment when the NFL’s late-game magician reverted to being human. But it also wasn’t the type of normal mistake you’d expect from a thoroughly average passer. It was just a fluke. Maybe just as much a fluke as Foles’s bizarre career itself.