FOXBORO — Patriots coach Bill Belichick remembers getting an up-close look at Nick Foles last August during joint practices at the NovaCare Complex.
He liked what he saw, but he couldn’t have predicted that Foles would take the league by storm overnight and propel the Eagles into the playoffs in Chip Kelly’s first season.
“I think the play they got at quarterback last year was really good,” the three-time Super Bowl head coach said Tuesday before the start of joint practices at the Patriots’ facility. “I’m not sure anybody kind of totally saw that coming, but he was a big part of it and they had a lot of explosive plays. They were very dynamic on offense and made more explosive plays than anybody in the league.”
When both teams practiced last year in South Philly, Foles and Mike Vick were still jockeying for the starting job, with both quarterbacks rotating on the first-team offense.
In the preseason opener against New England at the Linc, Vick started and outperformed Foles, completing 4 of 5 passes for 94 yards, including a 47-yard bomb to DeSean Jackson. Foles completed 5 of 6 passes for 43 — not a bad effort, but he took a backseat to Vick's splashy debut.
Belichick said he didn’t pay much attention to the Eagles’ starting quarterback battle at the time, but Foles caught his eye after he took over for Vick in the regular season and put forth of of the best individual seasons in franchise — and NFL — history.
Foles opened his season with 19 consecutive touchdowns before his first interception, registered the third-lowest single-season interception percentage (0.63) and posted the third-highest passer rating in NFL history (119.2).
“I’m just saying at that time you’re running your plays, they’re running their plays, you’re not trying to game plan or scheme or anything else,” Belichick said, “but the year Foles had relative to the production, the touchdowns, interceptions, his overall handling of the team, was great. Outstanding. I don't know that at that point we were there in training camp that I would necessarily say I saw that coming, but you see a good football player. He had a great year.”
With Foles behind center, the Eagles finished with the NFL’s fourth-ranked scoring offense (27.6 points per game) in Kelly’s first year, right behind Belichick’s third-ranked New England squad (27.8).
Foles may have surprised Belichick, but Kelly’s instant success didn’t.
“I think I’d say they’re a very explosive team,” Belichick said. “They create a lot of big plays, a lot of explosive plays. I’d say that was the most impressive thing, the thing that kind of jumps out at you when you watched them in 2013, their ability to create huge chunks of yardage in the running game and passing game.”
And he thinks Kelly’s scheme and coaching has as much to do with the offensive success as its personnel.
“I think you got to give Chip a lot of credit for that,” he said. “There’s a lot of other teams that have good players, too. They created more big plays than anybody else, certainly scheme had something to do with that.
“You can’t point to one guy or one play or anything, just the whole combination of stuff — players, execution, play calling, all of the above. Bottom line is, it’s good.”