Nick Foles’ magic shows up in the most unexpected places.
It circulated through the Super Bowl when he threw three touchdown passes and caught another to topple Tom Brady. It rattled the stadium like an earthquake as he unleashed an NFL-record seven touchdown passes in just his ninth career start. It even drifted in through the north end zone at Soldier Field as the double-doink gave him yet another playoff win.
It surged yet again Sunday, when the Bears were spiraling toward rock bottom and plummeted to within an inch of defeat before Foles bolted in from the sideline to rescue them with three touchdown passes in the final seven minutes. He finished the comeback with a touchdown to Anthony Miller, and the throw looked so impossible that magic actually might be the most plausible explanation.
“Really composed, unflappable under pressure — I just think Nick is a really unique player in that regard,” said Colts coach Frank Reich, who was Foles’ offensive coordinator when he led the Eagles to a championship. “A lot of quarterbacks in the NFL have that composure; I just think Nick’s is maybe at another level. Part of that is, I just think he’s fearless.”
Whatever it is that suddenly transforms Foles from journeyman to juggernaut, the Bears hope he has enough of it left to make something special of this season — and maybe beyond. He’ll get his first start Sunday against the Colts.
What coach Matt Nagy wants more than anything from Foles is proficiency. The Bears believe their offense will be run more smoothly than it was with Mitch Trubisky, who was benched for Foles in Atlanta. They’re pivoting from a quarterback-in-training to a nine-year veteran.
It was less than a month ago that Nagy decided Trubisky was the better choice, a puzzling conclusion considering he said he would weigh their head-to-head performance in practice and their history. In the latter, Foles’ accomplishments are undeniable.
That Super Bowl, when he lit up the Patriots for 373 yards (the most allowed by the Pats that season) and posted a 106.1 passer rating, was hardly his only big-time performance in a big-time game. In the NFC Championship Game two weeks earlier, he shredded the Vikings to the tune of 26-for-33, 352 yards (the most the Vikings allowed all season), three touchdowns and a 141.6 rating.
Foles has a 98.8 rating over six playoff games, going back to a last-second loss to the Saints in his second season. He had just given his upstart Eagles the lead on a touchdown pass with five minutes left before New Orleans nipped them at the end.
In 2018, he led the Eagles to the playoffs by winning the last three games of the regular season, posting a 108.4 rating in that stretch. He got them in the postseason in 2013, too, by hanging 54 points on the Bears (the second-most they’ve allowed in 101 seasons) in Week 16 and knocking down the Cowboys the next week in a win-or-go-home finale.
“In the big moments, the calmness, being cool, collected — all that, that’s a strength of his,” Nagy said.
Trubisky hasn’t shown the same trait. All of his big games in 2018 were against teams in the bottom 12 of the league, he has a passer rating of 80 against the Packers and fizzled in his only playoff appearance.
Foles’ success in high-pressure, high-stakes games contrasted with his inability to stick long-term as a starter gives him arguably the most confusing résumé in NFL history:
† Super Bowl MVP
† Pro Bowl player
† A sub-80 passer rating in one-third of his games
† Traded or cut four times
“Every player goes through ups and downs,” Reich said, “so I don’t think what he’s gone through has been that unique.”
Wait, what? Not that unique?
Foles wouldn’t put it that way. He knows how unusual his ride has been and believes some of those lows, including bottoming out so badly with the Rams that “my love for the game was pretty much circling the drain,” he wrote in his autobiography, have refined him.
One of the best things about Foles is that he doesn’t dwell on failures. He doesn’t think about them on the sideline, or anywhere else for that matter. Even from play to play, his mind is “a blank chalkboard,” Bears quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo said.
“I ultimately knew through those times that God was doing something inside me that was more than the game of football,” Foles said. “A huge part of my life and career is not holding tight to those things — like I don’t hold tight to the Lombardi Trophy. I want the success to be a byproduct of the little things each and every day.
“I can step on the field and be a lot more free than if I put everything on a pedestal. There’s been more of a peace at going to work.”
It’s not totally clear what Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace had in mind when they traded a fourth-round pick for Foles and signed him to a three-year contract worth between $21 million and $24 million. It’s essentially fully guaranteed aside from Foles having an opt-out each year.
They said it was to compete with Trubisky for the job this season, and now with Trubisky probably headed out the door, Pace and Nagy must figure out what’s next. Foles would theoretically be an ideal bridge quarterback to another first-rounder as the Bears’ search for a franchise quarterback continues, but their 3-0 start already makes it unlikely they’ll have a high draft pick in 2021.
That leaves them wondering whether Foles, 31, might be their answer for a while. There are seven NFL starters 35 or older this season. Six are Hall of Fame candidates, including the Bears’ opponent this week, Philip Rivers. The other is fellow career nomad Ryan Fitzpatrick.
“You see it now, the age of these quarterbacks that are taking such great care of their bodies, and Nick is one of those guys,” Nagy said. “Being 31 is by no means old.”
It’ll be clear by the end of the season whether Foles is a smart bet for the Bears.
If they go at least 7-6 the rest of the way, they’re a near-lock for the playoffs. Foles is in an ideal situation with a coaching staff he knows well, a talented cast of skill players and one of the NFL’s best defenses providing him ample margin.
It’s his last chance to find a home — and it might be his best one.