PHILADELPHIA -- Nick Foles has a new nickname that's appropriate this time of year: Saint Nick.
Foles hardly resembles jolly old Santa Claus, but he's given fans of the Philadelphia Eagles plenty of gifts this year. They want one more Sunday.
A victory over the Dallas Cowboys (8-7) would clinch the NFC East title for the Eagles (9-6) and secure the No. 3 seed in the conference. It's already been a remarkable turnaround under rookie coach Chip Kelly after a 4-12 finish last year.
'We did not play well, but from that game we've grown together as a team'
But this story is far from complete. For all of his accomplishments, Foles is constantly reminded about the first time the Eagles played the Cowboys.
Both teams were 3-3 when Dallas came to Philadelphia, shut down Kelly's high-flying offence and knocked Foles out of the game with a concussion at the end of the third quarter. Foles was 11 of 29 for 80 yards in the 17-3 loss, a dismal performance in only his second start after replacing an injured Michael Vick.
"I know everybody is going to dwell on last time, but this game isn't the last game," Foles said.
Foles returned from the concussion two weeks later and threw seven touchdown passes to tie an NFL record in a victory at Oakland. He leads the league with a passer rating of 118.8, which is third-highest in the history of the NFL. He's thrown 25 TD passes to only two interceptions. He's led the Eagles to a 7-2 record in nine starts and has them on the verge of going worst to first in the division.
Yet, he's still asked about that first game against Dallas on Nov. 3. See, beating the Cowboys is an obsession in Philadelphia. It's almost equivalent to a playoff game every time they face the boys with the stars on their helmet.
"If I look into every little thing that I did and try to break it down, I'll drive myself crazy as well," Foles said. "We've been asked that question several times and everyone wants an answer, but I think the answer is that we had a bad day. We did not play well, but from that game we've grown together as a team."
The offence has been nearly unstoppable with Foles under centre since. Foles is having one of the best seasons in franchise history. The offence has set team records with eight games of 30-plus points and six games of at least 450 total yards. They're 22 points and 79 yards away from setting club records for most points and most yards.
So, maybe that loss to Dallas didn't hurt them too much after all.
"We use that game as not necessarily fuel, but it was character-building," Foles said. "Tough games like that, tough things in life, you face adversity and it hurts. You don't feel good. You feel it in your heart; it's not fun. But you learn how to get better. You overcome obstacles and you grow together as a team, and that's the beauty of it. We kept rallying and we kept sticking together."
There were critics who thought Foles folded under pressure the first time against the Cowboys. Though it was only Week 7, first place was on the line, and he was still trying to prove himself worthy of being the starter.
"I don't think whatever the setting is, is too big for Nick," offensive co-ordinator Pat Shurmur said. "He didn't play very well. I don't think any of us played well the first time we played Dallas. I looked back on it now and I don't recognize some of what happened. We dropped balls; we weren't on the same page with who we blocked. Certainly Nick had some inaccuracies. We did a poor job coaching and playing.
"I think we're a different team now."
-- The Associated Press