Eagles Saints Football

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles (9) warms up before before an NFL divisional playoff football game against the New Orleans Saints, in New Orleans, Sunday, Jan. 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

NEW ORLEANS — After his interview, after he and the Eagles fell agonizingly short of beating the Saints, after he helped rally the team into the postseason, after he led the franchise to its first-ever Super Bowl a year earlier, after all he gave to Philadelphia the last two seasons, Nick Foles walked across the Superdome field a solitary figure.

Last February, Foles was whisked back onto the U.S. Bank Stadium turf in Minneapolis to be interviewed by ESPN, and as he made his way to the set, hundreds of fans still basking in the Eagles’ championship, serenaded the Super Bowl MVP with chants of his name.

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The scene was much different this time. Foles, dragging a suitcase on rollers, strolled to the team bus amid Saints staffers and family members still celebrating a 20-14 divisional playoff win. But Foles’ future is yet again unclear. The only certainty is that he won’t be the starting quarterback for the Eagles next season.

There may be speculation that they will keep Foles and trade Carson Wentz this offseason. But barring something unforeseen, Wentz will be back — and likely with a contract extension — and Foles will be playing in another uniform.

He wants to be a starter again, and considering the way he’s played the last two seasons, he should get that chance. Ideally for him, you’d imagine, it would be for the Eagles.

“That’s a tough question,” Foles said when asked how much he wanted to stay in Philadelphia. “It’s a really unique situation, something that, honestly, I need time to step back. I love this city. I love playing there. We have three guys in that quarterback room that can play in this league.”

But Wentz is the only one who can be the best player in the NFL. Nothing is guaranteed. There will be those who insist that Foles is the better option. They will point to his postseason success. They will mention Wentz’s record in close games. They will cite his injury history and his failure to finish the last two seasons.

They are all fair arguments. But Foles has had his struggles as well. He’s had as many injuries. And, frankly, he didn’t get the job done on Sunday. After a torrid start, Foles reverted to the quarterback who hesitates for a click and gets timid with throws.

The Eagles didn’t lose because of him. Far from it. The Saints were a tough out and Doug Pederson’s group needed to be near perfect if it was to upset the No. 1 seed at home. And that meant Foles would have to play close to as he did last postseason.

But after completing eight of his first nine passes for 113 yards and a touchdown, he was just 10 of 22 for 88 yards and tossed two interceptions the rest of the way. The second pick wasn’t his fault. Receiver Alshon Jeffery let a pass slip through his hands to Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore, effectively ended the Eagles’ comeback effort.

The first interception, though, was on Foles. He underthrew an open Zach Ertz and Lattimore made a diving grab.

“Need to get the ball up probably another foot or so,” Foles said. “But I believe Lattimore made a good play.”

The Eagles were up, 14-0, early in the second quarter and were at midfield. The Saints needed a fake punt to score on their ensuing possession, but Pederson said the interception changed the momentum of the game.

“You felt it a little bit,” he said.

Foles had tossed interceptions in each of his four previous games since replacing the injured Wentz — two last week against the Bears in the wild-card round — but he was able to rebound each time. And for a moment, as the Eagles drove all the way to the Saints 27 with two minutes remaining, it felt like he would do it again.

“It was storybook the way it was setting up,” Eagles tackle Lane Johnson said.

But Foles’ pass sailed through Jeffery’s normally reliable paws and his Cinderella story was over.

“Football’s a funny sport, especially playoff football. It’s tough,” Foles said. “I felt like we started the game off well, and we were battling the rest of the game. We gave ourselves an opportunity to win at the end.”

There were other missed opportunities, though. Foles missed an open Ertz on a second-quarter hitch route. He threw short of an open Golden Tate on an early fourth-quarter third down. And on the next series, he had a miscommunication with Nelson Agholor on a deep route.

Foles typically has a nice touch on his long passes, getting air under the ball so that receivers can run under them. Jeffery’s late-season resurrection had a lot to do with the change in quarterbacks. But Foles relied too often on the floater Sunday. If there’s one obvious edge Wentz has — aside from his mobility — it’s his arm strength.

The Saints stayed committed to stopping the run and opted to take their chances vs. Foles. And, ultimately, the Eagles’ failure on third downs — they converted only 2 of 7 — would haunt them. Foles completed his first two third-down passes, but he missed on his next five.

“There’s always throws you’d like back in every game,” Pederson said.

Foles should have little to regret, however, especially after his second go-around in Philly. His place in the franchise history is cemented. His reputation among fans and his teammates secure. If there’s anything Wentz could learn from Foles — and he already has many leadership traits — it’s how he casually led the Eagles.

“He just has this way, of every time you’re out on the field, it feels like you’re out there with your buddies playing backyard football,” center Jason Kelce said. “And that’s a hard way to feel in this game, this league, and this environment.

“It’s a very stressful environment and a lot of guys can get anxiety over certain situations, and certain things that arise. Sometimes guys naturally have this personality and this way about them that kind of makes you forget all that sometimes.”

The Eagles and Foles have a mutual option on his contract for next season. The team is likely to pick it up, and Foles to buy it back, so that he can enter free agency and the Eagles can receive compensation. There are other options, but most involve him leaving.

“No matter what happens,” Foles said, “it’s been a joy.”

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