NFL

Nick Foles magic lives, coaching rumors, Antonio Brown and more

The Philadelphia Eagles can’t lose with Nick Foles. It’s a phenomenon, but one his teammates believe they can explain.

Sixty yards and the NFL’s best defense stood between Nick Foles and another postseason victory.

The Bears, and that 180 feet, never stood a chance on Sunday night in the first round of the NFC playoffs.

Foles deftly moved Philadelphia down the field in front of 60,138 screaming fans at Soldier Field. Third and nine. Fourth and goal. None of it mattered. The game-winner came when Foles found the end zone on a two-yard touchdown strike to Golden Tate, making a perfect throw into the front right corner of the end zone.

Yet this wasn’t a perfect effort by any means. Foles threw two interceptions, including a hideous heave for a touchback in the second quarter that took certain points off the board. The Eagles stalled out repeatedly in the Chicago cold. Then, when Philadelphia had to have it, Foles stepped in and rallied the troops before marching down for six.

“Calm,” left tackle Jason Peters said to describe the huddle on that final drive. “Nick got in the huddle and called the play. I know, and everybody else knows, that if we keep people off Nick he’s going to find somebody open.”

In the Philadelphia locker room, it was a party. Owner Jeffrey Lurie walked through and patted backs. The offensive linemen talked about having a Mario tournament. Players bounced around atop the garbage strewn on the floor, slapping hands and smiling wide. It was the picture of contentment and relief. A team knowing it is still breathing.

Of course, it’s funny how narratives turn. If Cody Parkey’s kick doesn’t get deflected, if it doesn’t hit the left upright and then the crossbar before bouncing forward, Foles likely played his last game for Philadelphia. The Eagles would be headed home after a valiant-but-futile effort.

“We have a very mature team” center Jason Kelce said. “They are a tough defense. They played a great game. It was a battle the entire time, but we just had guys stick with it, kind of got a little lucky at the end, and we get to play another week.”

Indeed. The ball did somehow hit two bars before bouncing out, and Foles has more time to dazzle in Philadelphia. The Eagles are headed to New Orleans with all the belief imaginable in both themselves and their miracle-working quarterback.

The Saints are entering the Divisional round as nine-point favorites, the biggest spread of the weekend. Then again, the Bears had the largest number to lay in the Wild Card games and Philadelphia didn’t seem to mind.

GOING DEEP: Bears might have seen bright future with Trubisky

Perhaps it’s the unburdening of expectations. The Eagles weren’t expected to win the NFC East last year let alone the Super Bowl. When people began to believe around Philly, Carson Wentz blew out his knee. Expectations were gone. Then the Eagles became the first team in NFL history to be underdogs in the Divisional round as a No. 1 seed. They were the underdog in every round, as it turned out. They ran the table, including an epic victory on Super Bowl Sunday over the dynastic New England Patriots.

At 6-7 and with Wentz out once more, nobody could dream up this scenario. A road win over the Rams. A last-second victory against the Texans. A triumph in Washington coupled with the Vikings losing at home against a Bears team with nothing to play for.

At the center of it all is Foles. He was magnificent against Houston, throwing for 471 yards and four touchdowns to keep hope alive. On Sunday, the Bears blitzed and stunted, trying to confuse Foles. It worked at times. It didn’t work when it mattered most.

Less than three years ago, Foles was famously considering retirement. Now he’s living as a champion does, with all of Philadelphia under his magical spell.

Power rankings

Top 10 Wild Card games in NFL history

1. Oilers at Bills, 1992
2. Giants at 49ers, 2002
3. Bills at Titans, 1999
4. Packers at 49ers, 1998
5. Packers at Cardinals, 2009
6. Chiefs at Colts, 2013
7. Steelers at Browns, 2002
8. Cowboys at Seahawks, 2006
9. Steelers at Chiefs, 1993

10. Seahawks at Packers, 2003

Quotable

“I’ll be good to go by the beginning of the season.”

– Cowboys receiver Allen Hurns after suffering a gruesome ankle /leg injury

If Hurns can return to the game and do it so quickly, that would be fantastic. All the best to him after a horrific injury.

Podcast

Listen to Matt Verderame and Josh Hill each week as they go around the NFL. This week, they dissect the Wild Card results before previewing the four Divisional round matchups. Make sure to subscribe on iTunes to get all the latest episodes straight to your devices!

Random stat

Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, only four home teams have been shut out in the playoffs. The Texans were a controversial call away from making it five.

Bill O’Brien was fractions of an inch away from being the coach for two of those occasions, having been blanked 30-0 by the Chiefs in 2015.

GOING DEEP: Bill O’Brien is major problem in Houston

Coincidentally, Kansas City, just like Indianapolis, was also 1-5 that season before going on a run.

Info learned this week

1. Divisional round promises great intrigue

Here comes the best weekend of the NFL season.

In the AFC, who could argue with the group? The Patriots are two-time defending conference champs. They welcome in the Chargers, who dominated the Ravens to earn this match up. It’s two veteran quarterbacks facing off, with one having nothing to prove and the other with everything.

New Englanders won’t like it, but this sure feels like it could be the end of the Patriots as we know them. Tom Brady is 41 years old and beginning to look it. Rob Gronkowski doesn’t look like he’ll be back in 2019 and there’s a good chance Julian Edelman won’t be either. Los Angeles is a formidable foe that actually recorded the better record against a tougher schedule. The Chargers aren’t going away quietly.

In the other AFC tilt, it’s the Chiefs and Colts. The winner will hold the mark for most playoff wins all-time at Arrowhead Stadium.

Kansas City is trying to erase ample January demons, including six consecutive home postseason defeats. Patrick Mahomes is the main reason to believe that morbid history will finally turn, but the anxiety will be palpable until hope becomes realized. Indianapolis certainly won’t be an easy out. The Colts have won 10 of 11 and handled the Texans with ease in Houston. A strong argument could be made that Andrew Luck is the league MVP if not for Mahomes’ existence.

GOING DEEP: Cole says Bolts’ key is hitting Brady

In the NFC, the Cowboys will try to take down the Rams at the Los Angeles Coliseum on Saturday night. Forget about the over/under on the game. What’s the over/under on percentage of Cowboys fans filling up the stadium? I’d set it at 70 percent. Give me the over.

On Sunday, the Saints begin their postseason quest against the Eagles. Philadelphia was overwhelmed and outmatched less than two months ago in the Big Easy, but the Eagles have found their mojo. New Orleans has a tough test ahead of it.

2. Coaching carousel continues to turn faster

The offseason has begun for 24 teams, and the coaching searches for eight franchises are heating up.

Many candidates have already scheduled or taken multiple interviews including Eric Bieniemy, Jim Caldwell, Mike McCarthy, Chuck Pagano, Adam Gase, Kris Richard, Zac Taylor, Mike Munchak, Brian Flores and Todd Munken. While none of the eight openings have been sewn up, some situations are starting to crystallize.

GOING DEEP: Dolphins’ owner is hurting franchise’s quest for coach

While McCarthy hasn’t interviewed in Cleveland, he has spoken with Browns General Manager John Dorsey multiple times as the process has continued. Meanwhile, the Dolphins and Broncos are both interested in trading for John Harbaugh. Harbaugh has one year left on his deal in Baltimore but would get an extension if traded.

In Green Bay, Josh McDaniels is the top choice if the Packers can pry him away from New England. McDaniels turned down a chance to work with Andrew Luck a year ago. Would he do the same with Aaron Rodgers?

The Buccaneers continue to court Bruce Arians, who has emerged as the leading candidate there. If the marriage happens, Jameis Winston couldn’t ask for a better chance to succeed.

GOING DEEP: Bengals deserve what they get if Jackson is choice 

Both New York and Arizona are reportedly interested in Kliff Kingsbury, who has been blocked from interviews by USC. Each club has also expressed interest in Bieniemy.

3. Steelers preparing for split with Antonio Brown?

The past week has seen the drama between Antonio Brown and the Steelers continue to build. Brown has unfollowed the Steelers on Instagram and swapped them out with the 49ers, while the Steelers are reportedly trying to restructure and extend the contract of Ben Roethlisberger to provide themselves with more cap room in 2019. The idea is that Pittsburgh could be opening up space so that a Brown trade becomes more palatable.

While it appears the sides are headed for a split, the offseason is a long play. Pittsburgh can’t trade Brown until the new league year in March, giving both sides time to cool down and make amends. The Steelers would certainly have suitors for Brown, likely including the receiver-needy 49ers and the Oakland Raiders, who hold three first-round picks in April’s draft.

With Brown’s antics and the fact he’s turning 31 years old in July, Pittsburgh might view this as the time to cut bait. That said, his prolific career will demand a significant haul.

4. The road ahead for teams eliminated on Wild Card weekend

Over the weekend, four teams went from a string of green lights to a dead end.

The Ravens, Texans, Bears and Seahawks now face the offseason with different realities facing each. For Houston, will it retain Tyrann Mathieu, and how much does Jadeveon Clowney cost? In Baltimore, does Harbaugh return for another season, or does a trade bring back significant draft capital to help surround Lamar Jackson with talent?

In the NFC, the Seahawks are trying to catch up to the Rams. The hill is steep and time is short. Russell Wilson is great but on the wrong side of 30 and Pete Carroll is the league’s oldest coach. As for Chicago, can the Bears keep building off a terrific nucleus while holding off what should be resurgent teams out of Green Bay and Minnesota?

All questions to be answered over the coming weeks and months.

5. Redskins under steep, justified criticism at home

Dan Snyder wants a new stadium and the donation of land to go with it. The local media is turning its guns on him.

Giving Snyder anything but a hard time would be absurd considering his track record both on and off the field. Esteemed Washington Post journalist Sally Jenkins lays out why Snyder can’t be trusted, ranging from his notoriously bad training camp deal with Richmond to his disinterest in the fan experience at FedEx Field. The fans are noticing. As Thomas Boswell notes, the Redskins saw a stunning 24 percent drop in attendance from 2017 to ’18.

Washington has made the playoffs five times in the 20 years of Snyder ownership, never advancing past the Divisional round. He’s also jacked up concession prices and aggressively sparred with those wanting the team to change its name.

The best play in Washington would be to stonewall his efforts to build a new stadium at every turn, hoping he finally sells in frustration.

History lesson

Twenty years ago, the Minnesota Vikings were poised to reach the Super Bowl for the fifth time in franchise history. After rolling to a 15-1 record in the regular season and beating the Cardinals in the Divisionals, the Vikings welcomed in the Atlanta Falcons.

Leading 27-17 in the fourth quarter, it appeared Minnesota was moving on. Instead, the Vikings allowed 10 points, Gary Anderson missed a field goal for the first time all season, and the Falcons won in overtime to stun the Metrodome crowd.

Minnesota is still waiting for its fifth trip to the Super Bowl.

Parting shot

The Detroit Lions are having a rough week.

After an ugly 6-10 season in Matt Patricia’s maiden voyage. general manager Bob Quinn held his end-of-year presser. A question came about Patricia’s past, specifically the aggravated sexual assault charge brought against him in 1996. Quinn responded that the team didn’t know of the allegation upon the hiring but also didn’t have regrets of the move.

Quinn was then asked three more questions in succession about Patricia’s appointment amid questionable circumstances. Quinn continued to say an extensive background search was conducted, before saying he’s “not paid to do extensive background checks.”

On its face, the answer smacks of indifference. It shows a lack of attention to detail, particularly over something that was easy to uncover. Quinn and the Lions have to know about charges of such a serious nature, and when they come to light, they have to be treated with the utmost seriousness. Quinn and his staff do plenty of background checks on players in advance of the draft, so he’s expected to know what would come up in one.

The Lions have to do much better moving forward.

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