New Orleans’s football team may call themselves the Saints, but we know whose side God will be on when the Eagles visit the Superdome next week.
Nick Foles did it again in the wild-card round, leading the Eagles to a 16-15 comeback win over the Chicago Bears with yet another game-winning drive to keep Philly’s season (and the possibility of divine NFL intervention) alive. We call Foles a lot of things—Super Bowl MVP, St. Nick, even Big Dick Nick—but now we have to seriously consider him among the most clutch players in NFL history, and possibly a warlock with genuinely magical powers, or an actual sports savior with celestial jurisdiction granted by a higher power. We may not know why, but we definitely know he is good at winning Very Important Football Games.
Before Bears kicker Cody Parkey curved his sixth kick of the year into a goalpost, and before Foles found Golden Tate for his umpteenth season-saving play for Philadelphia, Sunday was perhaps the least impressive do-or-die game for Foles since his rise to local demigod status began. He had a meager 266 passing yards with 25 completions on 40 attempts. It was the first playoff game of his career with a passer rating under 100, and he threw two interceptions for the first time since Week 12 of the 2015 season, when he was playing on the Rams for Jeff Fisher.
When the Eagles found themselves down five and with the ball in Foles’s hands, Philly fans will tell you they never doubted him for a minute. They’re lying. The drive was kept alive by a key play from tight end Dallas Goedert, whose only other catch in the game to that point was a touchdown that gave Philly a 10-6 lead late in the third quarter. On second-and-10 from the Bears’ 45 with four minutes left, Goedert feigned helping pass-protect before peeling out to catch a throw from Foles and spinning his way to a first down.
The Goedert play design and catch pic.twitter.com/3VQaYAzKZJ— BleedingGreenNation (@BleedingGreen) January 7, 2019
On the next play, Foles found receiver Nelson Agholor, who used a nifty move to get 8 yards and set up second-and-2. One play later, on first-and-10, Foles hit Zach Ertz for 13 yards. Suddenly the Eagles were in the red zone with more than three minutes left in the game. Three plays later, on third-and-9, Foles connected with former Bear (and promise keeper) Alshon Jeffery for 11 yards to put the Eagles at the Bears 2-yard line with less than two minutes to play.
But this is the Eagles, so that was just the beginning of the drama. Naturally, the Eagles gained no yards by handing the ball off to Darren Sproles in the backfield—twice. Third-and-goal was an incompletion to set up another crucial fourth-and-goal, à la the Philly Special in the Super Bowl. And of course Doug Pederson would use his first timeout with 61 seconds left to decide on the play call, all but erasing the possibility that the Eagles could get the ball back if they failed to score, turning the fourth-and-goal from the 2 into a score-or-go-home play for the Eagles offense. And, of course, Foles found Golden Tate for the score.
Foles’s pass with less than a minute left in the game was the latest fourth-down playoff touchdown to take the lead since at least 1994, which is as far back as the data goes. Foles finding another Tate (acquired at the trade deadline for a third-round pick) was a credit to the Eagles’ front-office acumen. Pederson eschewing the chance to get the ball back and choosing to focus on the fourth-down attempt showed his ability to dominate by living in the moment. Foles earning $1 million in the win because his contract has incentives for leading the Eagles on another Super Bowl run showed that he is a legit living legend. And the Bears kicker following up the Eagles’ drive by doinking a ball off of the upright and the crossbar showed that Foles can bend time, space, and the magnetic fields that span the axes of the earth. Convincing the front office to keep him over Carson Wentz this offseason should be easier than, I don’t know, winning back-to-back Super Bowls.
Foles was already a Rocky-like cult hero to the Delaware Valley diaspora for leading the Eagles to the Super Bowl last year. Taking over again this season, upsetting the Rams on Sunday Night Football, winning what’s likely his final home game in Philly, and then leading the Eagles to a playoff berth in Week 17 cemented his legacy when he could have been dismissed as a fluke (so, you know, Rocky II). But after collecting yet another playoff victory, this time against the best defense in the NFL, Foles can be considered among the most clutch athletes pound-for-pound in any sport. He is Robert Horry. He is Mariano Rivera. He is death, the destroyer of worlds. And he’s heading to New Orleans for the divisional round.