Underdog Eagles, QB Nick Foles emblematic of rough-and-tumble NFL season

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Eagles quarterback Nick Foles throws Thursday. (AP)

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Tom Brady is the bright, shiny face of the NFL.

Nick Foles, his counterpoint in Sunday’s Super Bowl, is its reality.

At the end of a season in which the game’s biggest stars fell to serious injuries almost weekly — quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson and Andrew Luck; 2016 receiving yards champ Odell Beckham Jr.; running backs David Johnson and Dalvin Cook; all-world defenders J.J. Watt, Eric Berry, Kam Chancellor, and others — there’s no one more representative of the season than the Eagles’ backup quarterback.

The NFL, despite rule changes designed to protect players, remains a war of attrition.

Foles took over for Carson Wentz when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in Week  14. In three of the four full games he has played since, Foles has finished with a passer rating over 100. Including the season finale in which he was lifted early — his only loss in five starts — Foles has thrown eight touchdowns and two interceptions.

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Only two summers ago, Foles considered retirement after requesting that the Rams cut him. Just last summer, he began taking seminary classes with hopes of becoming a high school pastor whenever his football career ends.

“I’m grateful to be up here, but at the same time, if I would have made the other decision, my life wouldn’t have been a loss,” Foles said. “Everyone’s going to have to make decisions in their life that go one way or the other.”

This one went well. After Chiefs coach Andy Reid and future Bears coach Matt Nagy talked Foles into joining the Chiefs in 2016, Foles stayed in a similar system when he went to back up Wentz the next year. Eagles coach Doug Pederson, back when he was the Eagles’ quarterbacks coach under Reid, had been the only person to attend Foles’ private pro day coming out of Arizona in 2012.

Foles’ success doesn’t surprise his Eagles teammates; after all, he went 8-2 and earned a Pro Bowl berth in 2013, his first stint with the team.

Receiver Mack Hollins said it was as if nothing had changed when Foles replaced Wentz, the presumptive league MVP, with three games left in the regular season.

“It’s not like we’re getting some guy over at Walmart and saying, ‘Hey, do you want to play football?’ ” Hollins said. “This guy is a Pro Bowler.”

And he has an even better defense. While Foles has been more than competent, the Eagles rely on their attacking, dancing, celebrating ‘D,’ which has held teams to 10 or fewer points in each of their last four games. No NFL team has done that since the Broncos in 2009.

“It’s not only his talent and his poise and his character, but Nick understands he has a great team around him,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said.

In that sense, this year’s Eagles bucked the NFL trend. It’s a quarterbacking league, but one of its best teams is led by a backup and coached by a guy who spent most his playing career in the same role. In 10 NFL seasons, Pederson only started games in parts of two.

For the third straight playoff game, the Eagles will be underdogs. That fits the coach, and his QB.

“You’ve got to work for everything you get in your career,” Pederson said. “Especially a backup. Nothing’s ever handed to you.”

Follow me on Twitter @patrickfinley.

Email: pfinley@suntimes.com

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