With two minutes remaining and his Chicago Bears trailing Atlanta by three, Nick Foles lined up at the Falcons’ 28-yard line and read an all-out blitz coming. He immediately audibled to deal with the coming pressure — Atlanta would indeed rush six.
Only there was a twist. Just prior to the play, during the two-minute warning timeout, Foles had told receiver Anthony Miller that if a checkout came, Miller should run a simple route.
“Get to the ‘L’,” Foles said, meaning the “L” in “ATL” painted in the Falcons’ end zone. The pass would arrive there.
“And it’ll be a pretty stiff ball,” Foles warned.
Miller did as he was told, running a designed-on-the-fly backyard-football route. As he arrived at the L, so did the ball, launched by Foles just a fraction of a second before he was buried by linebacker Mykal Walker.
Miller caught it, Chicago took a 30-26 lead it wouldn’t relinquish and the Legend of Nick Foles got itself another chapter.
“That’s a fun way to win a game,” Foles said.
Foles will start Sunday against Indianapolis, according to coach Matt Nagy, which will make Chicago the fifth NFL team he’s started a game for, and that includes two stints in Philadelphia. He relieved a struggling Mitchell Trubisky in the third quarter against Atlanta and promptly turned a 23-10 hole into a Chicago victory, bringing the Bears to an unlikely 3-0 on the season.
The Trubisky benching was both deserved and also lightning quick, which suggests Nagy may have been eager to move on from the former No. 2 overall pick despite winning the season’s first two games. Foles was probably always the inevitable plan this year. That they got to him while remaining undefeated is a bonus.
Now the question is: What do Foles and Chicago do with it?
There are few NFL careers more confounding than the one Foles is rolling through. He was named Super Bowl MVP after outdueling Tom Brady in Philly’s classic upset three seasons ago in a game where he delivered 373 yards and three touchdown passes and one “Philly Special” touchdown receiving.
He made a Pro Bowl in 2013, throwing seven scores in one game that season, and he routinely pulls off plays like “Get to the ‘L’” that you’d expect from Patrick Mahomes or Aaron Rodgers.
Yet across nine seasons with five teams (Philly, Kansas City, St. Louis, Jacksonville and Chicago) he’s never been able to seize control of a starting job, either because of inaccuracy, turnovers or injuries. For every burst of magic, there is the return to the mean that suggests he’s nothing more than a very capable back-up. Teams tend to want him, then not so much. He’s been traded three times, always as part of some mid-to-late-round draft swaps.
After the 2015 season in St. Louis, where he completed just 56.4 percent of his passes and threw more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (7), he strongly considered retiring and finding a new profession.
Football was no longer fun. It certainly had never been easy. He played high school ball in Texas but the local schools showed little interest. He went to Michigan State but couldn’t crack the lineup. He transferred to Arizona and wound up drafted in the third round. Now, though, he was just a bad QB with no guarantees for the future.
He went fishing, prayed on it and decided to give it another crack. A year in Kansas City led to a return to Philly and that improbable Super Bowl playoff run.
Since then, though, he has lost starting QB battles to Carson Wentz, Gardner Minshew and, just a month ago, Trubisky.
So which is the real Nick Foles, as he returns with another golden opportunity to show the league that he is more than just its most famous mop-up guy? When you start 3-0 — no matter how you start 3-0 — you have an inside track on the playoffs, especially as they’ve expanded this season. Chicago should be thinking big.
Foles will have to be a lot better than he was against Atlanta. Winning tends to smooth everything over, but he was just 16 of 29 for 188 yards. There were three touchdowns, against one pick, and that brilliant audible that comes from Foles’ deep confidence, but the warning light should still be flashing.
Foles’ accuracy has long been a problem — a career 61.8 completion percentage. So has his touchdowns-to-interception ratio — 74 to 36. He tends to get banged up often and struggles once defensive coordinators can plan for him.
Still, he’s the kind of guy who subs in and switches the offense on the biggest play of the game. He’s the back-up who spent the fourth quarter walking up and down the Bears sideline reminding everyone that the comeback was possible (and his teammates believed him).
“It’s one play at a time …” Foles said after.
That’s Nick Foles at his best, always believing even in the face of doubt, deficits and a blitz. And so now comes one more time for an opportunity to prove he is more than a guy who is so great when little is expected, only to be so befuddling when a lot is.
In his sixth starting stint with his fifth team, can Nick Foles be special in Chicago?
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