Here are the top photos from the Eagles-Vikings NFC Championship Game on Sunday night.
(Story coming …)
(Story coming …)
Nick Foles stood at his locker Friday afternoon, gently crossed his arms and waited for the throng of reporters to assemble in a semicircle around him.
Music was blaring throughout the room, so there was about a minute of waiting and small talk. A few joked, including Foles, that the rap music playing could give his interview a cooler vibe.
Eventually, the music was turned down before Foles deadpanned: "I mean, do we have enough cameras?"
Foles is about to play the biggest game of his life Sunday. There are thousands across the country and even in Philadelphia doubting whether or not he'll be able to play well enough for an Eagles' win. And Foles has been relaxed as ever all week.
"Right now I just feel good. I feel calm," he said. "When you're in the moment, I just stress staying in the moment, preparing in the moment, doing anything you can right at this moment. The rest takes care of itself. That just keeps me level."
It's not just Foles. It's the entire team that's been loose this week.
Dancing at practice, shooting hoops in the locker room. Heck, Donnie Jones and Lane Johnson have even serenaded their teammates with country songs as they walked into meetings this week. It's a group that's been loose all season; they haven't changed a thing even before the most important game of the year.
About six minutes into answering questions about Doug Pederson's play-calling, getting into an offensive rhythm and, of course, Case Keenum, one reporter noted to Foles that he seemed really calm.
"I feel great, honestly," Foles said. "Just living in the moment, doing everything you can to prepare and then going out on Sunday and giving it everything you have. That's all you can ever do. Sometimes when you press and try to do too much, it becomes difficult. I think we just have a great schedule throughout the week, it's something we've been doing all throughout the year and we feel comfortable with it. You just sort of stick to the schedule, stick to your preparation.
"I trust the guys next to me. The big reason I love playing football is I trust the guys next to me, I love the guys I play with. That's probably my greatest strength. I know I can depend on them and they can depend on me."
Can I kick it?
Without Jake Elliott's three field goals last Saturday, the Eagles aren't able to take down the Atlanta Falcons and they wouldn't be in the NFC Championship Game.
Elliott, the rookie kicker who the Eagles added this season after Caleb Sturgis went down, will turn 23 on Sunday. The same day he'll very possibly need to make a game-winning field goal to send the Eagles to the Super Bowl.
Last week, before his first playoff game, Elliott talked about how he handles pressure (see story). There's certainly a lot of it in the playoffs.
"That's one thing with Jake," Pederson said. "It doesn't get so big for him. He handles all these situations. Inside he might be a ball of nerves, but on the outside, he's cool, calm and collected. Obviously some of the big kicks he's had this season already has really prepared him for it. If it comes down to that, he can make that kick. We all have faith and trust that he'll do it. When you step away from it and go, yeah, he's a rookie, first-year kicker, but he's been exposed to a lot of veteran kicks this year, and he's got a great future ahead of him."
The one slightly concerning thing about Elliott is his propensity to miss short kicks. While he's been incredible from long distances, extra points have been a problem. Including the playoffs, Elliott has missed four extra points. The only kicker to miss more this season? Vikings kicker Kai Forbath.
So in a game pretty much everyone thinks will be close, this is something to watch.
Of Elliott's four missed extra points, two have gone wide left, one went wide right and the one last week hit the left upright.
Including extra points and playoffs, Elliott has actually been more accurate from 40-plus (90 percent) than inside 40 yards (87.7 percent) this season. Go figure.
Earlier this week, Eagles VP of football operations Howie Roseman was named the NFL Executive of the Year by the Pro Football Writers of America. Not much of a surprise. He revamped a team that went 7-9 and helped turn them into the top seed in the NFC, capable of overcoming major injuries to key players.
While many probably thought the Eagles were going into a season of building with second-year quarterback Carson Wentz, Roseman went out and brought in players that he knew could help this season.
For the coaching staff, it had to mean a lot that Roseman believed there was an opportunity to win this year.
"It's tremendous," Pederson said. "Howie has come a long way through the last couple years, and to be in this position, to help this football team win and succeed on the football field is a credit to him and his staff. That's the thing that he and I with the communication, the open communication of being on the same page with the types of players that we want to have in this building and the types of good character people and obviously good football players, number one.
"But it's just a credit to him and what he's done and being able to find the guys that we've been able to coach and help us get in this position."
Quote of the Week I: "But at the end of the day, it's going to come down to is our D-line better than theirs? I mean, they got a dominant D-line, we have a dominant D-line. And we'll see who shows up on Sunday." -- Fletcher Cox
Quote of the Week II: "He speaks with a lot of passion and intensity. And there's meaning behind his words. You want to be right there and you want to feed off of that intensity. You've already got a lot of emotions and energy in yourself already, but when you've got a guy like that, you feed off of that too." -- Steven Means on Malcolm Jenkins
Quote of the Week III: "I probably eat more than any guy I've seen. My best moment was I once ate 30 slices of pizza in one sitting. You know Cicis Buffet? Yeah, shut that place down." -- Stefen Wisniewski
Random media guide note: Brandon Graham's first job was working the grill at McDonald's.
Take a look at that smile. That might’ve been the first smile Nick Foles cracked on a football field since the Eagles' offense was moving up and down the field on the Giants in mid-December.
That smile may have been the turning point for the Eagles’ season — right after Foles threw what should have been a backbreaking interception, one that would’ve been the beginning of the end.
Foles’ struggles heading into the playoffs were well documented. Obsessed over, in fact. And the backup quarterback was off to another mediocre start in the Eagles’ divisional round game against the Falcons. After completing 46.9 percent of his passes for 4.1 yards per attempt with one touchdown and two interceptions in the final two regular-season games, Foles started 9 of 12 for a meager 66 yards.
The numbers didn’t quite capture how ineffective he looked. Two-thirds of the offensive production to that point had come from running backs or running the football. Worst of all, his team was losing.
Then, in the second quarter, another Foles pass sailed over the head of its intended target, as was becoming the norm, this time into the waiting arms of Falcons safety Keanu Neal. A pick likely would’ve put Atlanta in scoring range, possibly been returned for a touchdown. Either result would’ve been devastating.
Neal didn’t come down with the errant throw. The ball bounced off the defender’s knee, deflected back toward the line of scrimmage, some 10 yards through the air, into the hands of an alert Torrey Smith. The Eagles wideout turned a botched turnover into a 20-yard gain, which helped set up a field goal two plays later to cut the Falcons’ lead to one.
The points seemed big at the time. Vastly more important was the impact the play seemingly had on Foles.
For weeks, Foles was held under the microscope. First, his overall competency was the issue, which wasn’t unusual for a journeyman replacing an MVP-caliber signal caller on a team with Super Bowl aspirations. As Foles struggled, his confidence was questioned, and the concern became whether the pressure of the situation getting to him was a larger problem than his ability.
How much validity there was to the latter idea, we’ll never know. There were plenty of built-in excuses for Foles’ earlier performances. He didn’t have much work with the first-team offense. Game plans and practices were dialed back the final two weeks of the regular season. The elements — particularly strong winds — had been a factor for all quarterbacks at Lincoln Financial Field.
All we can say for certain, anecdotally, is Foles looked like a different player after Smith came up with that haphazard pass. The sixth-year veteran was 10 for 13 for 86 yards, including the near-interception, and led one scoring drive on his first four possessions. The rest of the game, he was 13 of 17 for 160 yards, with three scoring drives out of four possessions.
As disastrous as that play could’ve been, maybe it loosened Foles up. I mean, it was legitimately funny, as long as you weren’t so angry by the way things were transpiring for the Eagles, you could allow yourself to have a sense of humor about it. Maybe when the weight of the world felt like it was on his shoulders, he needed a good laugh.
A turnover there would've been hard to come back from, both in terms of Foles' mindset and on the scoreboard. Instead, the Immaculate Reception-like play had a reverse effect.
Foles finally loosened up, and loose Nick Foles is the best kind of Nick Foles. Look no further than 2013, the infamous 27-2 season that occurred when nobody expected him to be the Eagles’ starter, let alone decent. Compare that to 2014 and ’15, when the teams he was a part of were bad, but the expectations were rising with his profile.
By the end of his second career playoff game, he looked like he was having fun and ready to let the ball fly. That’s exactly the version of Foles the Eagles are going to need in the NFC Championship against the Vikings on Sunday.
Fans can only hope that version of Foles is here to stay, at least for one more week.