The public perception of Nick Foles is, well, unflattering. And that might be putting it nicely.
It differs dramatically from the view of his peers around the league — at least the small sample size polled at the Pro Bowl last week. Most of those players, who are arguably some of the best in the NFL, consider Foles to be a capable — and in some cases quality — quarterback.
Foles is in the spotlight because he has come off the bench to lead the Eagles into Sunday’s Super Bowl LII in Minnesota against the Patriots with Carson Wentz (torn ACL) going down in Week 14. After a shaky start in Philadelphia’s final three regular-season games, Foles played well in the playoffs, including a masterful performance in the NFC Championship Game against Minnesota.
He sent the Vikings home with 352 yards on 26-of-33 passing with three touchdowns and no interceptions, and anyone who watched the game got to see the upside Foles brings to the field.
“It’s impressive,” Rams quarterback Jared Goff said of Foles’ efforts so far in the postseason, which include victories over Atlanta and Minnesota. “It’s impressive, especially in the playoffs against really, really good opponents. What they did against the Minnesota defense was unbelievable. We played them earlier in the year, and I thought that was the best defense we played all year. They’re a good team [the Eagles], and he’s a good player.”
There aren’t many NFL fans outside the city of Philadelphia who agree with Goff. I posed the question on Twitter @jameyeisenberg of “when you hear the name Nick Foles, the first thing that comes to mind is ___?” And the results were mostly negative.
Some responses were funny, especially comparing Foles to the character Napolean Dynamite, and the quarterback does bear a strong resemblance to actor Jon Heder. A few were encouraging that said he’s a capable backup, who is making the most of his situation with a great team in Philadelphia this year. But most, as you would probably expect, were mean.
That comes with the territory of being a backup quarterback, especially someone like Foles, who has had mixed results in the NFL. He looked like a promising player in 2013 when he led Philadelphia to the playoffs under former coach Chip Kelly, and he had 27 touchdowns and two interceptions that year. But he struggled in 2014, was traded to the St. Louis Rams in 2015 — where he went 4-7 as a starter before being benched for Case Keenum — and then signed with the Chiefs as a backup in 2016.
He returned to Philadelphia as a backup this year, and the Eagles season appeared to be in trouble when Wentz got hurt. Foles played well against the Giants in his first start in Week 15 — 24 of 38 for 237 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. He was awful in Week 16 against the Raiders — 19 of 38 for 163 yards with one touchdown and one interception in a Monday night game.
Seeing that performance probably prompted some of these responses about Foles.
But then came the playoffs, and Foles has turned things around. He was 23 of 30 for 246 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions against the Falcons before his outing against the Vikings, and the players at the Pro Bowl are expecting him to have another good performance against the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
Added Rams running back Todd Gurley, who played with Foles in 2015: “He wouldn’t be a quarterback in this league if he couldn’t play. He’s a good quarterback.”
Another one of Foles’ former teammates with the Rams, punter Johnny Hekker, said Foles is the ultimate competitor and never got down on himself after being benched for Keenum. Hekker got to know Foles well over plenty of card games between the two of them, Keenum and kicker Greg Zuerlein.
Hekker said he knew Foles’ demise with the Rams wasn’t going to be the end of his story.
“Whenever you follow success with hard times it’s going to be difficult,” Hekker said. “You see the real character of a person. Nick never hung his head, he never felt sorry for himself. He never stopped working to make the team better. He’s the kind of guy that really doesn’t let his situation define him. He’s going to keep working and not let an adverse situation keep him down.
“I’m not shocked about his success. He’s had it coming.”
Foles definitely shocked the Vikings. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes said the Foles they prepared for and the one who showed up at the NFC Championship Game were not the same quarterback.
“Honestly, we didn’t expect that,” Rhodes said. “We expected him to dink and dunk, throw check downs, but he came out guns blazing. He was accurate with his throws going deep, making great reads. What we saw on film and what we thought we were going to get, they came out totally different.”
Added Vikings safety Harrison Smith: “He seems like a guy who is pretty cool. He doesn’t get too fazed by much. He’s going to go do his thing.”
We’ll find out Sunday if the Patriots will be saying the same positive things about Foles after Super Bowl LII. And if they are then maybe the public perception of him will change as well.
But if he has a bad performance then he will likely continue to be called “meh” or “inconsistent” or “garbage” again. It’s largely up to Foles and how well he plays in the biggest game of his career.
With a victory, he can call himself something no one can deny — Super Bowl champion.