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Nick Foles (left) and Michael Vick each led TD drives in the Eagles' preseason-opening loss to the Patriots. (USA Today Images/AP)
And after Round 1 of the anticipated Great Quarterback Debate ...?
Well, it’s a draw. Still.
Mike Vick and Nick Foles finally strapped on their sparring gloves Friday night in the preseason opener (see Instant Replay), each getting their first chance in a meaningful game (sort of) to campaign for their candidacy as coach Chip Kelly’s first starting quarterback.
The veteran Vick, given the first crack with the first-team offense, did his best to put distance between himself and his second-year counterpart. On his fifth snap, he rifled a picturesque spiral down the right sideline 47 yards to old pal DeSean Jackson for an early game-tying touchdown.
“I just felt my time was going to be limited tonight,” Vick said. “I just wanted to make the most of it. I wanted to move the chains and put our team in position to score points.”
Foles, whose night began with a questionable fumble on his first drop back, came back to lead the first offense on a 10-play, 66-yard touchdown drive. He completed 4 of 5 passes on the march, converting a pair of third-and-longs to Jason Avant.
For the numbers-crunchers and stat parsers looking for any nugget to promote one over the other, well, crumble up the papers and toss them in the trash.
Vick completed 4 of 5 passes (80 percent) for 84 yards. Two plays before his aerial strike to Jackson, he found Avant for 22 yards on a crucial third-and-6 that kept the drive going.
Foles’ stats look much less prolific in the box score, with just 43 passing yards, but he hit on 5 of 6 throws (83 percent), moving the offense methodically.
“They both played pretty well,” Kelly said. “It gave you confidence in both of those guys. That’s what you’re hoping to happen.”
The campaign returns to the Linc next Thursday for the second preseason game, against the Panthers. If he’s true to his word, Kelly will start Foles and have Vick come in after and both will probably play more than two series.
Asked about the first-up bomb to Jackson, Vick said he’s always trying to make a statement.
“I told myself every snap that I take I would try to treat it like my last,” he said. “That’s just how I feel. Every day there’s competition.”
Foles watched the picturesque connection between Vick and Jackson from the sideline but dismissed the idea that the touchdown had motivated him.
“If you start doing that you start getting out of who you are and your comfort zone,” he said. “Of course I’m a competitor. I want to throw touchdowns every time I’m in there. I want to throw downfield and do great things, but I also know if you start pressing and you start doing too much, bad things can happen.”
Surprisingly, Kelly didn’t dial up much read-option for the NFL’s all-time leader in quarterback rushing yards but the tempo picked up when Foles entered the game.
Vick, who enjoyed a clean pocket thanks to a strong showing by the offensive line, completed his first three passes but misfired on his last two, stalling his second drive before Foles took over.
Foles didn’t get the same protection right from the start. On his first attempt, Patriots tackle Tommy Kelly breezed past right guard Todd Herremans inside and lassoed his right arm around Foles’ right throwing shoulder during the quarterback’s throwing motion, causing the ball to spring free and end up in the hands of linebacker Brandon Spikes.
Officials initially ruled the pass incomplete but then ruled in favor of the New England challenge after a video review.
On Foles’ second try, Kelly sped up the tempo as the Eagles went no-huddle and shotgun for seven straight plays. Foles dissected New England’s defense with a variety of passes, many of them on the move. He completed four straight passes to the New England 30 and then avoided an oncoming rusher as he charged forward for 10 more yards.
His third-down strike to Avant that set up Bryce Brown’s touchdown, a quick release, was perhaps his best throw of the night.
“We were able to go out there and march down the field,” Foles said. “It’s always a great feeling when adversity happens in the game and you’re able to come back from it and score a touchdown.”