Back-up quarterback Nick Foles had a lot to live up to in the Super Bowl, following in the steps of first-choice Carson Wentz. He did that, and much more, writes Dylan O’Neill
“Why does everyone want me to retire so bad?” joked New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady as he fielded questions from the media last Wednesday.
For most it was simple. Brady, ever since he entered via the 1999 draft as the 199th overall pick and took over as head Patriots quarterback just after the turn of the millennium, has done what no other quarterback has done in that period or maybe ever. Prior to Sunday evening’s duel, in eight previous Super Bowl appearances Brady had thrown for over a whopping 2,000 yards. Foles, the Philadelphia Eagles back-up quarterback, hadn’t even appeared in a Super Bowl before.
However, it didn’t deter Foles. On the Eagles’ first possession he continued his impressive post-season form, marching them down to the two-yard line before having to settle for a field goal. The Patriots did the exact same, with their kicker Stephen Gostkowski nailing one from 26 yards to level the scores with the very next possession. Just a minute and forty three seconds later and the Eagles were 9-3 up, failing to convert an extra-point after a pin-point pass from Nick Foles.
The frantic pace of these early exchanges did not stop. Pass for pass, rush after rush, the Eagles always managed to stay one step ahead of the Patriots. For everything Brady threw at Foles, the back-up came back at him completely unfazed, even by the enormity of a fixture of this magnitude.
“The last month we’ve been waiting for the perfect time and you know, that was the perfect time”
The Eagles entered the locker room at half-time with a commanding 22-12 lead but this included missed conversions and field-goals. It was a game that had everything, save for a fumble – although that would come later.
In the end, it was no surprise the Philadelphia quarterback ousted Brady for the highly-coveted MVP trophy. The 29-year-old played the game of his life and attributed his performance to his high-school basketball years and having played tight-end in his sophomore year of college. Both were critical in Foles becoming the only quarterback in Super Bowl history to throw and catch a touchdown pass. It was similar to a play Brady had tried, and failed, to convert earlier in the game. “The last month we’ve been waiting for the perfect time and you know, that was the perfect time”, said Foles post-match.
For Brady, this was always going to be a test of longevity. Could he still mix it with the best, even with every fibre of his being slowly beginning to creak? Following their 2017 Super Bowl triumph over the Atlanta Falcons, the Michigan State alumni aptly commissioned a five-part Facebook Watch series titled ‘Tom vs Time’. It debuted in the week-and-a-half leading up to this year’s contest. As early as the first episode Brady alludes to his old age, showcasing his hunger and will to still be the best and how he sees himself versus others his age whose bodies would normally be behaving differently.
With one time-out left and 2:21 on the clock it came down to a Brady possession. The five-time Super Bowl champion had been here countless times before and in need of a touchdown, an 8-yard pass to Rob Gronkowski pushed the Patriots further down field leaving 2:16 left to go. Brady snapped and wheeled back looking for a teammate. As he arched his arm for the throw Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham, who had led the Eagles team in sacks for the season, came in and forced a game-ending fumble, from which then took the Eagles over the 40 point mark after another field goal.
The Patriots got the ball back with 1:05 left but it was too little, too late. The Eagles fended off a hail-mary throw to claim the prestigious Lombardi trophy for the first time.
For Foles, who had considered retirement in 2016, this was as sweet as redemption gets. After his breakout year in 2013 the Texas-born quarterback had struggled while with the Rams and then Chiefs in 2016. It was Doug Pederson that opted to trade for him, even if it was merely as a second-choice.
For head coach Doug Pederson the return of Nick Foles was a gamble that paid off. “There’s such a calming presence with him”, he opined back in December, “and nobody batted an eye Sunday afternoon when we got word that Carson [the first choice quarterback] might not return to the field. It was business as usual.”
According to ESPN NFL statistics, in three post-season games this season, Foles had thrown for three touchdowns, completed a very impressive 78% of his passes and averaged 9.49 yards per pass – which led any QB postseason – completely eliminating any concerns pundits had about the legitimacy of his quality as a starting quarterback.
When asked about how he felt coming into his first ever Super Bowl, Foles seemed as composed as ever. “Everyone asks me how I’m doing,” he said early last week during a Super Bowl media scrum. “I’m good”.
Foles wasn’t just good in this game, however. He was great.
Interestingly, this was also game that broke several Super Bowl and NFL records:
Most play-action passes attempted in a Super Bowl (Foles’ 21). Check.
The second-highest Super Bowl total points with 74. Check.
Sadly though, there could only be one winner. In Nick Foles and Doug Pederson, for the entirety of the sixty minutes, they out-maneuvered arguably the two biggest legends of the sport. No doubt they’ll enjoy it while it lasts.