Nick Foles was at his most ridiculous Sunday when the Bears needed him most: in the fourth quarter, on third and fourth downs.
In the first three quarters of Sunday’s 30-26 win against the Falcons, the Bears were 1-for-9 in converting third and fourth downs, throwing two interceptions.
In the fourth quarter, not counting a kneel-down, Foles converted four of seven third and fourth downs, totaling 89 yards, two touchdowns and a 141.37 passer rating. One incompletion, a 17-yard throw on fourth down to Anthony Miller, was ruled a touchdown but then overturned by replay.
“First and second down comes with execution, no doubt about it,” passing game coordinator Dave Ragone said Monday. “But everybody in the building knows on third down you’re throwing the ball. You are judged about how you make decisions on those downs and then moving into the red zone.”
By that metric, Foles was a star. Here’s a look at his four biggest throws on third and fourth down in the fourth quarter:
‘The best play’
Without Foles’ fourth-and-6 completion to Ted Ginn Jr. with 8:23 to play, the Bears’ comeback — 20 points in a span of 4:31 — doesn’t happen.
“That was the best play of the football game, hands down,” coach Matt Nagy said. “It’s not even close.”
With the Bears down 16, Ginn lined up just outside the hash marks on the right-hand side. Seeing cover-2 defense, he ran a corner route, slipping between the cornerback and safety, and caught a 29-yard pass down the right sideline.
Nagy called it “clinic tape” for a cover-2 play. Tight end Demetrius Harris chip-blocked the right defensive end, the offense line blocked well, and Foles had to use his eyes to keep Falcons cornerback Darqueze Dennard responsible for the right flat so Ginn could get behind him.
“Our timing was good, the route was perfect, the throw was perfect,” Nagy said. “In a crunch-time situation, you’ve-gotta-have-it fourth-and-6 to extend the game.”
Ginn, a 14-year veteran, ran the route flawlessly for his first catch with the Bears.
“I mean, how many times do you think Ted Ginn has run a corner route against cover-2?” quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo said.
DeFilippo called the degree of difficulty a 7 out of 10. But the circumstances made it huge.
“If we don’t convert that play, it’s gonna be tough sledding,” he said.
The lucky play
With the Bears trailing by 16, Foles knew he had to take chances. On third-and-8 with 12:37 left, Allen Robinson ran a slant route against zone coverage and was open for a potential first down. Foles didn’t see him, though, and was forced to scramble left. He was outside the numbers at the 50-yard line and about to be sacked when he lofted a prayer toward tight end Jimmy Graham, who was had crossed from right to left.
It should have been an interception. Of the three Falcons defenders in front of Graham — “That was truly cover-3,” Nagy joked — two jumped. Cornerback Isaiah Oliver watched the ball go through his hands and into Graham’s.
As Graham ran toward the end zone, linebacker Mykal Walker punched the ball out at the 7. Miller picked it up, fumbled, then landed on the ball.
Miller’s drop on fourth-and-17 drop ended the drive, but Foles showed risk-taking in desperate circumstances.
“Nick told me afterwards, he said, ‘I just wanted to give our guys a fighting chance and just throw the ball up,’ ” Nagy said.
The rally starter
The easiest throw Foles made all day was a touchdown pass to Graham, who, on third-and-goal from the 3, split right. Graham stands 8 inches taller and weighs 65 pounds more than Dennard, who was tasked with trying to box him out.
Foles, who had thrown behind Graham a play earlier, hit him in both hands to pull the Bears within 10 with 6:20 to go.
“He’s such a great competitor and post-up option for us down there,” tight ends coach Clancy Barone said.
Graham has three touchdown catches this season, as many as he did all last season with the Packers. He’s the Bears’ best red-zone weapon.
“That’s kind of been the m.o. of his career,” Barone said. “A lot of it is, he’s athletic. He has very good hands. He has a great wingspan, so a very good catch radius, and he’s had a lot of time on task doing that.”
What winning looks like
Nagy said Foles’ final touchdown pass — a 28-yard floater to Miller — exemplified Foles’ communication skills. During the two-minute warning, Foles told Miller he’d loft the ball to the “L” in “ATL” painted in the end zone if the Falcons blitzed. They did, and Foles threw as he was hit. Miller ran a post route from the left slot and caught the ball on the “L.”
Ragone called the throw a winning play.
“You just see a guy out there who’s been on the big stage before, who’s played a lot of NFL games and doesn’t get sidetracked by too many things,” he said.
It was also a good sign for Miller, who dropped a would-be touchdown pass against the Giants in Week 2 and then again earlier in the fourth quarter Sunday.
“It shows his resolve,” receivers coach Mike Furrey noted, “that he comes back at the end of the game and hits the game-winner.”