The bye week had no ill effect on Nick Foles, as he put together another multi-touchdown pass performance and 100-plus quarterback rating in Sunday's 24-21 win over the previously red-hot Arizona Cardinals. That is now four wins in a row for the Eagles, who got their signature win on the season and kept pace with the Dallas Cowboys atop the NFC East at 7-5.
"That's what's important, to win games," Foles said. "The quarterback has to be consistent, especially in this league because there's so much talent. These defenses are very good, so as an offense you really want to get the ball in your playmakers' hands. Doing that is getting the ball to them quickly, and if you have a shot, take it. You have to recognize when there's pressure and be smart with the ball. That's when you go back to film study. There are mistakes that I need to get better at. That's why, I'll say it again, I love this game and there's always an opportunity to get better."
Foles did not make any mistakes early. With the aid of an opportunistic defense that saw Trent Cole sack-strip Carson Palmer and Bennie Logan recover the fumble on the Cardinals' first possession, Foles and the offense got the ball at the 26-yard line less than two minutes into the game. Foles immediately went to work and looked for his tight ends. First up was Brent Celek, who was targeted on each of the first three passes on the game, registering two catches for 19 yards. Zach Ertz finished off the drive with a 6-yard touchdown reception off a fake pitch and rollout to the right. Both Celek and Ertz would be heard from again before the day was over.
"I felt like we had a good matchup with our tight ends on their linebackers," Foles said, cognizant of the fact that the Cardinals defense came into the game giving up the most yards to opposing tight ends in the NFL. "Their linebackers are very talented, but they're bigger guys. They're really good at stopping the run. They have a big line that really wants to generate pressure, so I liked our matchups with our tight ends and thought they did a great job today."
Following the first touchdown, the Eagles offense had trouble moving the ball, gaining just 54 yards and three first downs on their next three drives and having to punt each time. With the score tied 7-7 after a Larry Fitzgerald touchdown in the second quarter, the Eagles offense got rolling again. Foles started the ensuing drive with a screen pass to LeSean McCoy, who scampered 19 yards for a first down. He then completed passes of 20 and 24 yards to Jason Avant and Riley Cooper, respectively, to move the Eagles inside the 10-yard line. Though the drive stalled there, Alex Henery converted the field goal to give the Eagles a 10-7 lead.
The Eagles got the ball again before the end of the half, and Foles engineered a perfect drive that combined execution, precision and exquisite time management. He started with a gorgeous bucket pass to DeSean Jackson down the sidelines for a gain of 25 yards. Following a fourth-and-2 conversion on a McCoy run, Foles looked for wide receiver Riley Cooper in the end zone. Cooper was interfered with and the ball was placed at the 1-yard line. On the next play, Celek ran a drag route across the formation to the right, and Foles delivered an easy pitch-and-catch touchdown to make it 17-7 Eagles with just 15 seconds remaining before halftime.
The second half started the same way the first half ended, with an Eagles touchdown drive. Foles used his legs to convert the first third down, then his arm to find Cooper for 16 yards on third-and-10 and Ertz for 16 yards on third-and-8. He would find Ertz again down the seam in front of a defender with a pretty pass for a 24-yard touchdown to finish the 13-play, 82-yard drive. Three touchdown passes, each to tight ends, as Ertz became the first Eagles tight end since Chad Lewis in 2001 to have a multi-touchdown game in the regular season. The Eagles took a 24-7 lead, but it would prove to be anything but comfortable, a far too frequent occurrence with this team.
The offense stalled completely for the final 25 minutes, gaining a paltry total of 22 yards (excluding kneel downs) over its final six possessions that allowed the Cardinals to get back in the game. Foles had some issues with accuracy and was under plenty of duress. His one crucial mistake was making an ill-advised throw while being sacked that resulted in an interception which was negated due to a penalty on the Cardinals. McCoy churned out some yards but was essentially bottled up by the ferocious Cardinals front seven. A wave of penalties, a few of which wiped out big plays, did not help matters. This issue with falling in the fourth quarter has become a trend with this Eagles offense, one that Foles knows must be fixed if the team hopes to win games down the stretch and make the playoffs.
"We need to play better in the second half, that's obvious," Foles said. "We didn't play well. We need to help our defense out and the special teams played tremendously."
Luckily for Foles – who finished 21-of-34 for 237 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 112.0 quarterback rating – and the offense, the defense and special teams carried their end of the bargain and ultimately stopped the Cardinals' comeback bid to enable the Eagles to hold on for a 24-21 victory. All's well that ends well, but part of the maturation for this young team is learning how to finish games strong. We have seen glimpses of that against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Green Bay Packers, but that kind of mentality must be consistent instead of sporadic.
Foles, who stood tall in the pocket all game and popped up after every hit, was sacked five times but never let it rattle him. He was smart with the football on every pass except for the interception-that-wasn't and just kept firing, freezing defenders with pump fakes and extending plays to find open receivers.
"Nick did a heck of a job today," Ertz said. "Just standing in the pocket and making some of the throws he made under pressure is very neat to watch. He's such a warrior out there. I know that's probably cliche, but he truly is."
There is no denying we are watching a quarterback play football at a special, extraordinarily high level. If it continues, the City of Philadelphia will be in for a special stretch run as the regular season winds to a close.