What’s next for Nick Foles?

What’s next for Nick Foles?

Like everybody else, I’m having a little trouble wrapping my head around what Nick Foles accomplished in an Eagles uniform on Sunday. On one hand, I don’t care who you are or what the situation is, seven touchdowns in one game is damn impressive. There’s a reason only six other players in the 94-year history of the NFL have done it.

On the other hand, it was against the Raiders. Forget the rankings, they looked clueless. Oakland’s pass rush was nonexistent, cornerbacks were falling down all over the place and nobody even bothered to cover LeSean McCoy on his 25-yard touchdown reception. That was a bad team.

Then there is Foles’ baggage. He was a third-round draft pick. He lost an open competition for the starting quarterback job to Mike Vick over the summer (however narrowly). And when the opportunity presented itself again for Foles to cement himself in that role, the second-year passer played the worst game of his career against Dallas.

In the span of three games, Foles went from Offensive Player of the Week to a 37.9 completion percentage and 2.8 yards per attempt to etching his name into the record books. Foles is 24-years-old and has made nine career starts, yet he’s already experienced unimaginable highs and lows.

Who is Nick Foles? Nobody knows for sure right now—but everybody should be intrigued.

The numbers speak for themselves. Foles is averaging 8.7 yards per attempt this season. He’s thrown 13 touchdowns passes with zero interceptions. His 127.4 passer rating would lead the league if he had enough attempts to qualify.

It’s the things that don’t necessarily show up on the stat sheet though. Even as a rookie playing in his first NFL preseason game, Foles seemed to possess almost uncanny pocket presence. He instinctively slides away from pressure, but his eyes remain locked down the field rather than on the 300-lb. defensive lineman inside his facemask.

Foles is tough like that. He’s not afraid to stand in the pocket and take a hit. He’s got a prototypical 6’6”, 243-lb. frame, so he can absorb a few.

Foles’ arm strength is better than advertised as well. He’s usually very accurate, makes sound decisions with the football, and has what’s been dubbed as “functional mobility.”

Sounds like a great player. Why are we so mind-blown over his amazing performance on Sunday?

It’s his pedigree. The overwhelming majority of NFL starting quarterbacks are taken in the first round of the draft—Foles went in the third. He never produced a bowl victory at the esteemed University of Arizona, where he compiled a 15-18 record as a starter including a four-win season his senior year. You can understand why people are hesitant to label this kid a franchise quarterback.

It’s his track record too, or lack thereof. With the win over the Raiders, Foles’ record in the NFL improved to 3-6. Those three victories are against opponents with a combined 10-22 record. And while Foles has typically demonstrated steady improvement from one game to the next, there are still outliers such as his abysmal game against the Cowboys in Week 7.

There is only one way Foles can put those doubts and more to rest and that is by beating some decent teams or at the very least stringing together several quality weeks in a row. He hasn’t acchieved either of those feats yet, and until he does it’s perfectly fair to be skeptical even of seven-touchdown performances.

But it’s never really been about labels or what people believe. Neither Chip Kelly nor Howie Roseman and not even Jeffrey Lurie can wave a magic wand one day, and poof, Foles is the franchise quarterback.

There are only two ways a player is elevated to that status. One is he’s selected in the first round of the draft and handed the reins. The other is he plays his way into that position.

Fans and analysts can’t petition for somebody to be named a franchise quarterback. He simply is or he isn’t.

Time will tell whether or not Foles ever earns that status in Philadelphia—he hasn’t yet. Franchise quarterbacks all had to ascend from somewhere though, and labeled or not, Foles’ history-making afternoon on Sunday may very well have been the origin of one.

Robert Covington, Sixers show 'swagger' without Joel Embiid in comeback win

Robert Covington, Sixers show 'swagger' without Joel Embiid in comeback win

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The Sixers began the season looking lost without Joel Embiid. Now they are finding ways to win when he is not on the court. 

Embiid suffered a left knee contusion in the second half of Friday’s 93-92 win over the Trail Blazers (see story). He was sidelined for the decisive 8:50 of the game (see Instant Replay).

The Sixers trailed, 81-78, when he subbed out for the second time because of the injury, and outscored the Trail Blazers, 15-11, from that point on.

So how was this team that battled with inconsistency and reliance on Embiid able to pull out a comeback win punctuated in the final seconds? Ask the Sixers and they’ll give varying answers, a sign they are getting the job done in multiple ways and aren’t relying on just one key to success.

The most glaring difference was the hero of the game. Robert Covington drained two three-pointers in the final 40 seconds. His trey from Dario Saric with 38.2 remaining cut the Trail Blazers' lead to just one, 91-90. With 4.5 to go, he nailed the game-winning three from T.J. McConnell to give the Sixers their eighth victory in 10 games (see feature highlight).

“That’s resilient Cov,” Nerlens Noel said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a good shot or a bad shot; he’ll pull it in your face. That’s the confidence he has and that’s the confidence we need him to have. He steps up and makes two big shots like that, that’s enough said. He won us that game.”

Critics have called out Covington’s up-and-down performance from three all season. (They’ve made their feelings known with loud boos at home games.) Covington shot 5 for 12 behind the arc on the night but his 2 for 3 performance in the fourth was what mattered most. 

“I am a fighter, that’s what I have been my whole life,” he said. “Just because fans are booing me at one point doesn't mean anything. I just keep working. I am not going to let that deteriorate my game. It goes in one ear and out the other.”

Without Embiid in the game, the Sixers had to rely on a total team effort. After he went to the bench, the final points were scored by a combination of Covington, Gerald Henderson, Noel, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and McConnell.

“Ball movement,” head coach Brett Brown said. “We had 25 assists out of 36 made baskets. It’s not like we’re going to give the ball to Damian Lillard (guard for the Blazers). That’s not who we are. Whatever we do, it has to be done by committee, by a group, by a team. It’s even more exposed when Joel isn’t in the game. They did that. Unlikely people ended up with the ball sometimes in unlikely spots. … You have to move the ball. That’s what the team has learned without Joel.” 

Several of the players on the court in critical moments were from the second unit. Since Brown locked in on his rotation, the reserves don’t have a drop-off in confidence from the starters. 

“It’s the mentality,” Covington said. “Everybody has that swagger about us right now because once Joel comes out, the next person steps in and fills that void. It’s a matter of that contagious feeling that trickles into the second unit that’s making us that much more valuable.”

Then there's always defense, the foundation of any solid NBA team and a focal point for the Sixers. Noel saw that as the difference-maker when subbing in and out. The Trail Blazers scored just two points in the final 1:56. 

"The second unit goes there and does a great job guarding the yard, not letting up easy baskets," Noel said. "The offensive side is fluid motion. Guys get shots, pick-and-roll, it opens up open threes for guys, driving lines, pump fakes, it’s a great unity."

Embiid liked what he saw from a distance. He will not travel with the team to their game on Saturday against the Hawks in Atlanta. 

"I’m just happy we’ve been closing out games, and the main thing I’m really happy [about] is they’ve been able to do it without me," he said. "That’s going to give us a lot of confidence when I’m missing back-to-backs. My teammates are going to have more confidence to come in and play the same way."

Joel Embiid feels 'great' after injury scare to left knee

Joel Embiid feels 'great' after injury scare to left knee

Of the nearly 20,000 people in the Wells Fargo Center on Friday night, Joel Embiid was seemingly the least concerned when he came down and injured his left knee. 

Fans held their breath and the Sixers looked on anxiously as the standout big man got up in visible discomfort and limped off the court (see highlights). Embiid, however, wasn’t worried. 

“I knew it was OK. I just landed the wrong way,” he said after the Sixers' 93-92 win over the Trail Blazers (see Instant Replay). “I’m great. The knee’s fine. They did an MRI and stuff, everything looked good.”

Embiid ran off the court on his own, was diagnosed with a left knee contusion and was cleared to return to the game. He aggravated his knee again driving to the basket and this time, the team held him out to be careful.

“The review is that he hyperextended his left knee,” head coach Brett Brown said. “There was a minor tweak again, and for precautionary reasons only, the doctors did not allow him to return. There will be more information given as we know it. But quickly, that's what we know.”

Embiid understood the team’s decision to sideline him for the final 8:50 while the Sixers went on a comeback run (see feature highlight). He still finished the game with an 18-point, 10-rebound double-double, five assists and four blocks in only 22 minutes.

“Obviously those guys, the front office, they care about my future, so they just shut it down,” Embiid said. “But I was fine.”

Embiid will not travel to Atlanta for Saturday’s game against the Hawks (pre-scheduled rest). He expects to be available for Tuesday’s home matchup against the Clippers. 

"You know how tough he is," Nerlens Noel said. "If it isn’t anything serious, he’ll be right back. At the end of the game, he was telling me was he was feeling great and there was no pain. He wanted to come back in the game … he’s a trooper. He always gives it his all and always plays hard."

Injuries to any player are worrisome, especially a franchise centerpiece with two years of rehab (foot) behind him. The Sixers have been methodical and cautious with his playing time. Embiid is on a 28-minute restriction and can play in only one game of a back-to-back series. 

The same player who is so closely watched, though, also plays with sky-high energy that doesn’t have a brake pedal. 

“You're concerned,” Brown said of seeing Embiid get injured. “It's clear to all of us that he plays with such reckless abandon. I think that we're all going to be seeing this and feeling this regularly. From flying into stands to stalking somebody in the open court to block a shot to the collision he often is in trying to draw fouls. That's just who he is. 

“I think that as he just plays more basketball and continues to grow, to not necessarily avoid those situations, just to perhaps manage them a little bit more. Right now, he's just a young guy that's just playing that doesn't know what he doesn't know and has a fearless approach underneath all that attitude.”

Fearless is an accurate description considering Embiid's trouble-free reaction to the awkward way his leg bent (he hadn’t seen a replay). 

“I kind of had that in college, too,” he said. “I think I’m flexible, so it’s supposed to happen.”