Forget Draft Position: Nick Foles Defining Performance Gives Eagles Hope for the Future

Forget Draft Position: Nick Foles Defining Performance Gives Eagles Hope for the Future

There are going to be some folks who either can’t or won’t
enjoy the Eagles 23-21 victory over Tampa Bay. I feel sorry for them.

Was the win ultimately meaningless? Yes. Did it have a
negative impact on their rising draft position? Yes. But dammit, this was an
important win for Philadelphia.

It cemented Nick Foles as the future of their franchise.

No one can promise Foles will lead the Eagles to the
promised land. We’re not putting him on the next plane to Honolulu, nor planning
his enshrinement ceremony in Canton, Ohio. Long-term, nobody even knows whether
Foles will enjoy a lengthy run as a starting quarterback, let alone achieve
varying levels of greatness.

If the Birds are to ever win a Super Bowl though, the past
decade tells us they will most likely need an elite quarterback in order to do it.
Prior to Sunday, I would have said there wasn’t a player of that caliber on the
roster.

Now there is hope.

Down 21-10 with 7:21 to go in the fourth quarter, Foles led
the offense on back-to-back touchdown drives of eight and 13 plays, finally pinning the ball on Jeremy
Maclin in the end zone as time expired. Bet you didn’t see that coming.

Perhaps it is just as unfair to declare Foles’ career is
suddenly filled with tremendous promise after one great game as it was to say he wasn’t
necessarily ever going to become that player. It’s not as if there weren’t signs already.

The Eagles chose Foles in the third round with the blueprint
of grooming him to one day become a starting quarterback. He had an outstanding
preseason that suggested he was light years ahead of schedule. Since coming on
to relieve Michael Vick, he has made measurable improvements each and every
week.

But there is a difference between the athlete who is a
relative unknown, a preseason darling, or a young, developing quarterback, and the
player who proves on the field, when it counts, that he has “it.” By leading
the Eagles on that 64-yard touchdown drive with 2:44 remaining, Foles made the
leap from just another guy to legitimate prospect.

How good was Foles against the Buccaneers? Oh, he only had
the best performance by a rookie quarterback in club history. The kid
connected on 32 of 51 attempts for 381 yards (7.5 YPA) and two touchdowns, plus
added another score on the ground. He dropped back 60 times, but committed zero
turnovers.

Numbers don’t really do the outing justice. Foles made big
throw upon big throw during the comeback, especially on the final drive. 3rd
and 14? No problem. 4th and 1? He’ll take it himself. 4th
and 5? How ‘bout 22 yards. 2nd and goal from the 1-yard line with
two seconds left? Piece of cake. In fact, Foles accounted for all 136 yards on
the Eagles’ last two possessions.

All day long, Foles maneuvered around the pocket, faced the pressure, and delivered strikes down field. He had the look of a seasoned
veteran, which is quite possibly the best compliment you could pay a 23 year
old in the NFL.

Would we still be heaping all of this praise upon Foles had
Tampa Bay’s Danny Gorrer held on to an errant pass only three plays before Maclin
made a sliding grab by the sideline in the end zone? Maybe not to the extent
we are now, but a single poor throw would not have undone or erased the body of
work. This was a strong outing any way you slice it.

Besides, there are always bumps along the road. Foles has a
long way to go before anybody believes he is ready to put the football team on
his shoulders on a weekly basis. He is going to make mistakes, mistakes that are
the reason the Eagles taste defeat. It’s all part of the process.

Yet simply put, he is passing the eye test. There was an
increasing level of comfort setting in with the direction the Eagles are
heading at the position. Now that Foles has added a defining win to his resume,
there is going to be a genuine buzz over his next act. How does he top this?

At this point, Foles is a lottery ticket. He could fail
spectacularly, and the Eagles toss him aside. He could grow into a competent
quarterback that leads the team into the next era, and you enjoy it while it
lasts. Or, as we caught a glimpse of for the first time today, Foles might be
the next big thing, the grand prize so to speak.

Whether or not the Eagles picked a winner, we’ll have to
wait for the drawing to find out. We know now though that Foles was definitely worth the investment.

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Best of NBA: Cavs ride Big 3 to huge win over Knicks at MSG

Best of NBA: Cavs ride Big 3 to huge win over Knicks at MSG

NEW YORK -- LeBron James scored 25 points, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love also surpassed 20, and the Cleveland Cavaliers crushed the New York Knicks 126-94 on Wednesday night.

James had nothing to say Wednesday morning about Knicks President Phil Jackson and not much more about his decision to not stay with the team in a Donald Trump-branded hotel, but he and the Cavs made a loud statement at Madison Square Garden.

It was their second straight win after a three-game skid, and they did it easily in handing the Knicks their worst loss of the season. Irving led Cleveland with 28 points and Love scored 21, 16 in the first quarter.

Brandon Jennings scored 16 points for the Knicks, who had their four-game winning streak snapped and lost for the just the third time in 10 games. He started for Derrick Rose, who missed his first game of the season with lower back pain.

Tristan Thompson grabbed 20 rebounds for the Cavs. They played without guard J.R. Smith, who returned to Cleveland for additional testing after hyperextending his left knee Monday in Toronto (see full recap).

Antetokounmpo drops triple-double in Bucks’ win
MILWAUKEE -- Giannis Antetokounmpo got his second triple-double of the season to lead the Milwaukee Bucks over the Portland Trail Blazers 115-107 on Wednesday night.

Antetokounmpo had 15 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists for his seventh career triple-double -- second-most in franchise history -- and is the only NBA player averaging at least 20 points, eight rebounds, five assists, two blocks and two steals this season.

Jabari Parker added 27 points for Milwaukee, which rebounded from a one-point home loss to San Antonio on Monday to win for the fifth time in six games.

The Bucks entered holding opponents to a NBA-best .311 shooting percentage from 3-point range, but Portland drill a season-high 17 of them.

Damian Lillard made five of them and scored a team-high 30 points to go with seven rebounds and six assists.

C.J. McCollum added 23 points, including four 3-pointers, as the Blazers continued a nine-game stretch of playing eight times on the road (see full recap).

Streaking Rockets roll over Lakers
HOUSTON -- Eric Gordon made a career-high eight 3-points and scored 26 points to help the Houston Rockets cruise to a 134-95 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night.

James Harden added 25 points in three quarters for the Rockets. They scored a season high and extended their winning streak to a season-best four games.

The Rockets were up by 12 in the third quarter, then had a 22-6 run to make it 96-68 and put the game out of reach with about 3 minutes left in the quarter. Houston made four 3-pointers and got a nifty one-handed dunk from Clint Capela in that run to pad the lead.

Gordon already had four 3-pointers seven minutes into the first quarter after making each of his first four attempts. It was his seventh straight game with at least four 3-pointers, which is a franchise record.

Houston's winning streak is its longest since taking five straight in January.

Lou Williams led the Lakers with 24 points. They have lost four in a row, their longest skid of the season (see full recap).

Eagles players react to Doug Pederson's effort comments

Eagles players react to Doug Pederson's effort comments

Two days after Eagles coach Doug Pederson agreed "not everybody" on his team played hard in a 32-14 loss to the Bengals on Sunday, players were still trying to interpret exactly what those comments meant.

"I think Doug is saying we can all do better," Eagles tight end Brent Celek said on Wednesday. "We can give more effort, we can hustle a little bit harder to the ball, after the ball is thrown on offense, after a ball is ran or caught on defense.

"It's just a team thing. We're just trying to get better."

Now in his 10th NFL season, Celek was one of the few Eagles players we spoke to who agreed with Pederson's premise.

"I think guys are giving effort, but I think we could take it to another level," Celek said. "There's levels to that. You can go hard every single play. I think that's just what he's trying to say is, 'Listen, we can do better.'"

Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham sided with Pederson, as well, although largely for different reasons. The fifth-year veteran didn't believe effort was an issue, but if the head coach says it is, then it must be.

"It was shocking to me," Bradham said. "It's one of those things where, that's the way he felt, so if we weren't playing hard, we have to play harder."

Yet even as Bradham was attempting to back Pederson, he sounded like somebody who was unclear about the message.

"From what I've seen defensively and watching film, I feel like everybody was running to the ball," Bradham said. "I don't think that was the point he was trying to get across. I think he was trying to say we weren't paying attention to details as far as the effort part. I don't think he was saying work ethic.

"I think it kind of got worded wrong."

Many players offered their own unique takes on Pederson's statements, which might be the bigger story here than what was actually said. Nobody seemed to be especially offended — more like confused as to how anybody who went back and put on the tape could draw such a conclusion.

And honestly, they might have a point.

The Eagles got their butts whipped in Cincinnati. The Bengals could do no wrong on either side of the football, and the game turned into a bloodbath. Anybody could see the outcome was likely decided early into the second half, yet the defense forced fumbles and created turnovers with hustle plays even when almost all hope was lost.

"You look at the end, we had opportunities to lay down, to just say, 'This game's out of reach, we're not going to win this game,' but that's not what we did," Eagles linebacker Jordan Hicks said. "Guys came out.

"You look at the fumble forced by [Bennie Logan] — huge play in the game, and really one of those types of plays that is a momentum shift because then, now you look at it, we're getting off the field again. It's those types of plays that give you that type of momentum. You've got Nigel who comes in, they throw it to the big guy and he knows immediately to go for the ball.

"We had chances to not show effort, but nobody on that film does. I said it after the game, I was proud of the way we finished."

Pederson didn't necessarily imply Hicks, Logan or Bradham were among the "not everybody" who supposedly gave less than 100 percent. There are some high-profile examples of specific plays or individuals under heavy scrutiny this week, which are what was being alluded to when the coach was pressed on his team's effort.

Regardless, another detail most players agreed upon is Pederson never intended to single anybody out. At least that was the sentiment after he had a chance to address the locker room.

"I think it's more of a group comment that he made, and he addressed it," Hicks said. "He told everybody.

"There's plays we all can make if we all just give a little bit more. It's that challenge, that mentality that no matter what, we're going to continue to do what we do, and at the end of the day, every man has to look themselves in the mirror."

"I'm guessing he feels like as a team we probably need to play harder," Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins added, "but I know the intent of the guys that I practice with and play with every day, and I didn't see effort being the issue from my standpoint.

"The guys, they love this game and lay it on the line, so I don't have to coach anybody up on energy or showing up."

Another accusation that was put forth is the Eagles didn't necessarily lack effort. It was a matter of heart, intensity or energy — any of which was also disputed.

"I think I know the difference between the two," Hicks said. "It's tough to have that energy when you're down and you're fighting from such a deep hole. You try, but with energy, you have to make the plays first. When you're not making plays to give you that juice, that momentum, the things that switch the game on to your side, it's tough to have that energy."

"It's hard to have energy when you're down three scores," Jenkins said. "I think guys still played hard, but from just being a human being, it's hard to celebrate a play when you're trying to fight out of a hole.

"Everybody always talks about going out and having fun. Well, you're only having fun when you're winning, and so we have to find a way to get some of the momentum on our side, find a way to get some of the plays and things to swing in our favor, then we can have some fun as a team."

Jenkins also made it clear that questions about effort and energy have nothing to with the job Pederson has done as head coach of the Eagles.

"Me personally, although I love Doug, Doug is not the reason I get up and play and go to work every day," Jenkins said.

"I don't think our effort or how we perform is a direct reflection of Doug. It is his job obviously to lead us and get us prepared to play, but a lot of that onus is on us as players. We're the ones that have to go perform, we have to make the plays, we have to show up, we have to get our bodies ready, get our minds ready, and there's only so much a coach can do.

"Whatever is put on on that tape is going to be a direct reflection of the guys on the field."

That's really all the Eagles can do at this point if they want to dispel any and every notion that there is a single individual giving less than their all. The team's leadership seems to understand what it's going to take to quiet critics and skeptics.

"We just have to keep grinding," Celek said. "It's not easy, life's not easy. If you make a mistake, people are going to try to expose it any way that they can.

"They pay us a lot of money to do this. We all have to pick it up. We all have to do a little bit better, focus on our jobs and get a win. We just need a win."

With that, Celek may have hit the nail on the head, a point that Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox stated much more succinctly.

It's not a matter of effort right now. What would really quiet the noise about effort is performing on the field and earning a good old fashioned W.

"If we're winning, I don't think anybody is saying that," Cox said. "We just have to be better as a team."