The Eagles had long ago proven they can win games with Nick Foles. The biggest games, even.
But this season looked like too much of a mess for any one player to fix.
Instead, Foles led the Eagles to a 30-23 win over the Rams on the road, the kind of steady performance which makes them glad they have him in reserve.
The win moves the Eagles to 7-7, and within a half game of the final wild card spot in the NFC, and gets them back on the kind of footing that makes them think they ought to win games.
It would be unfair to Carson Wentz to suggest his absence has anything to do with it. It’s just the presence that Foles carries into the huddle is tangible, the kind of thing that coming off the bench to lead a Super Bowl run buys him.
Foles’ numbers Sunday were only OK (24-of-31 for 270 yards and an interception), but they didn’t seem as twitchy as they’ve been this season. The Rams turned a 17-point fourth quarter deficit into a one-score game late. But instead of hacking up a 17-point lead like they did against the Panthers earlier this year, the Eagles dove on a fumble by Rams punt returner JoJo Natson, and were able to play enough defense to hang on.
That has nothing in particular to do with Foles, but the 2018 Eagles were largely known for the plays that went the wrong way at the wrong time. That might eventually be the epitaph on their season.
But for a night, Foles was back, and so was the sense they could win games like this.
Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:
1. It’s probably too soon to panic (Narrator voice: That’s not true. It’s never too soon to panic).
But there’s something amiss with quarterback Jared Goff lately, something that all the clever play-calls in the world can’t fix.
He was 35-of-54 for 339 yards with two interceptions. That’s after a clean 37-of-77 for 387 yards, a touchdown and five picks in his two previous games, against the Lions and the Bears.
His third-quarter fumble/interception/Garo Yepremian combo platter was one of the worst individual plays you’ll see made this year, the kind of breakdown that will be talked about for years (just ask Mark Sanchez). That can work on a players’ confidence, and Goff has gone from beating the Chiefs in a 54-51 shootout to inconsistent in a hurry, with no reasonable explanation.
There were open receivers in the fourth quarter he simply missed, the kind of passes you can’t pin on injuries to Cooper Kupp or the weather in Chicago. He’s simply not playing well right now. With Todd Gurley in and out of the game with a knee issue, and other injuries thinning the Rams out, they can’t afford for Goff to be anything but his best. And over the last three weeks, he hasn’t been.
2. There was no bigger beneficiary of the return of Foles than wide receiver Alshon Jeffery.
The veteran wideout finished with eight catches for 160 yards, and had four catches for 87 yards in the first half alone.
If he’d have stopped at 30 minutes, he wouldn’t have had that kind of game since Week Seven, when he had 88 yards against the Panthers. And he didn’t top 50 yards in a game in any of the games since then.
It may not have been specific to Foles, but he hadn’t made plays with this kind of regularity this year.
3. The Rams weren’t going to be able to clinch a bye in the NFC playoffs anyway, once the Bears beat the Packers earlier in the day.
But you’d be worried about whether they were going to, at least until you look at their remaining schedule.
The Rams close the season with a trip to Arizona and a home game against San Francisco. And while anything can happen, and the other team practices too, and blah blah blah blah blah, if the Rams lose either of those two, they have problems bigger than playoff seeding.
4. It’s not as if Fletcher Cox is going broke or anything.
But the Eagles’ inside rusher was playing as if he had a point to prove against the Rams better-publicized defensive tackles.
While Ndamukong Suh used to be the big-money guy at his position, and Aaron Donald is now, the Eagles had to pony up for their version as well. They had to give him a six-year, $103 million contract to keep him around. It’s not Donald money, and he’s not always a Donald type of player. This week, he was.
Cox was hammering the Rams’ interior all night, disrupting things up the middle in a way that others get more credit for.
5. The Eagles secondary is suddenly, stick with me here, kind of good. Or at least no longer the reason they can’t win a game.
While the injuries that put safety Rodney McLeod and cornerbacks Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills on injured reserve, and had Sidney Jones (hamstring) inactive, they shouldn’t be playing with any degree of composure. And yet, they were.
Corey Graham and Avonte Maddox had interceptions, and Cre'von LeBlanc was hitting people and making plays. They’re far from household names, but they’ve obviously done something to develop the confidence of their coaches, because Jim Schwartz was as aggressive as normal with his play-calling, at least until the fourth quarter.
That’s a significant step from where that group has been.