Foles leads Eagles over Bucs, snaps winless skid
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Nick Foles sat at his locker in his uniform and pads while teammates undressed and dressed around him Sunday, while reporters scurried about and while coaches hurried in and out of the locker room.
There was perpetual motion all around him. But all he could do was sit there and absorb.
“Just trying to let it all sink in,” he said.
It might take a while.
Just moments earlier, with time expiring and another Eagles loss just a few clock ticks from the official books, Foles fired a one-yard, go-ahead touchdown pass to Jeremy Maclin in the right side of the end zone.
The gut-check toss that propelled the Eagles to their 23-21 win over host Tampa Bay (see instant replay)
at Raymond James Stadium and snapped the franchise’s eight-game losing streak also completed a 64-yard march that started at the Eagles' own 36-yard-line with just two minutes, 45 seconds remaining.
With all eyes on him and his teammates desperately needing a leader, Foles threw two touchdowns and put up 13 points in the game’s final four minutes, allowing the Eagles to taste victory for the first time since since Sept. 30.
It couldn’t have been more of a signature first NFL win for the third-round pick out of Arizona nor a more fitting end to the team’s win drought.
“This is a special game. It's a big win for us,” Foles said later in his press conference, which he conducted in the uniform and pants he still hadn't removed. “We haven't won one in I think two months, so the emotions are going crazy right now. You can't really say how you're feeling because it's a very exciting feeling. I just really want to enjoy it with my teammates because we were out there fighting together, and the coaches were with us every step of the way, so it was a big win for us."
Foles passed for 381 yards -- most ever by an Eagles rookie -- and scored three total touchdowns, passing for two and running for another. He completed 63 percent of his passes and registered the highest passer rating (98.6) of his four starts.
On his last two drives in a hurry-up situation, Foles completed 11 of 18 passes (with one spike) for 135 yards. On the game-winning drive, he connected on 5 of 11 for 59 yards.
The biggest throw actually came before the Maclin touchdown, when Foles hit wide receiver Jason Avant for 22 yards down the middle on 4th-and-5 to the 1-yard-line.
“Well, listen, he made some great, big throws,” head coach Andy Reid said. “It looked like he really rallied the crew in there. It looked like, Nick really, he did well, he made good decisions and made some big plays.”
The Eagles were seconds away from losing their ninth straight -- not done by the franchise since 1968 -- and had their 10-point lead and first-half shutout come undone as Tampa rallied for 21 unanswered points.
Despite their improvements the Eagles had began their weekly implosion in the second half when Damaris Johnson’s muffed punt led Tampa’s first touchdown, and missed some tackles and failed third-down stops allowed the Bucs to take an 11-point lead with 7:26 to play.
Foles got the ball back at his own 28 but had taken a pounding all game. He was sacked six times, hit often and frequently flushed from the pocket.
This was the moment his teammates, coaches and Eagles fans had hoped to see. This was his defining spot. He embraced it.
"If there's time on the clock, you're always ready to go out there and play,” Foles said.
He started by completing six of his next seven passes, including an 11-yard touchdown to Clay Harbor on the back line of end zone that cut Tampa’s lead to 21-16. Foles missed Dion Lewis on the two-point conversion, which meant the Eagles couldn’t tie the game on a field goal when they got the ball back with 3:55 to play.
Even without DeSean Jackson, out for the year with broken ribs, and without tight end Brent Celek, who left with a concussion (see story)
, Foles found ways to find targets downfield.
Right after taking an eight-yard sack from Michael Bennett to force 3rd-and-14, he fired a 23-yard dart to Maclin with 1:51 to play at Tampa’s 45.
“It’s not easy to keep your poise when you’re getting hit all day as a rookie, but he did,” said Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who had two sacks. “All the credit goes to him. Mike got to him early on that last drive, [and Foles] could have gotten nervous, but he didn’t.”
Foles marched the Eagles to Tampa’s 23 before he misfired on three plays to set up 4th-and-5. Then came the colossal connection -- his 22-yarder to Avant on a gutsy, playground-style play call that set the stage for another courageous decision and big-time execution (see story)
The Bucs had curiously called timeout after Foles’ spike with just two seconds on the clock. On the sideline, Foles convinced Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to run the play he wanted.
“Well, listen, he wanted that last play,” Reid said. “That’s a play he wanted. He called it, he wanted it, and he executed it.”
Foles had rolled to his right and anticipated that Maclin would shake cornerback Leonard Johnson in the end zone.
It happened just the way he had planned.
“We were on the same page,” Foles said. “He trusts me, and that's big when you have your coach that trusts you in that situation to go out there. I told him I was comfortable with the play. He said, 'Let's do it.' The coaches were fired up.
“I love our coaches. I love our team, our organization. Once again the fans were great today. So I can't say enough. It was a great win for us. We just have to keep building on this. We can't just let this be it. We've got to enjoy it today. It's a special win -- but we've got to learn from it, the same way you learn from losing. You've got to look at the film, get better -- but we enjoy it today, enjoy the 24 hours."
Foles has just a few days to prepare for his next start, a Thursday night showdown at the Linc against Cincinnati. The Bengals, like the Bucs, are defensive-minded team that’s stout up front with good pass rushers.
They also just lost at the buzzer, falling 20-19 to Dallas on Sunday, to have their four-game win streak snapped.
“Now we have to get ready for this Thursday night game, which is a quick turnaround, and we’re going to have to cram this game plan in and get it right,” Reid said, “make sure we’re going against a good football team in Cincinnati, we have to get it right and get ourselves mentally and physically ready to go.”E-mail Geoff Mosher at firstname.lastname@example.org