By the middle of the third quarter, Eagles fans were booing St. Nick again.
Nick Foles had just missed Torrey Smith by the length of a good-sized sled. That wasn’t the worst pass Foles threw this Yule; not by a longshot. He’d nailed Reggie Nelson in the mitts early in the second quarter and, considering Nelson plays for the Raiders, the projectile had been launched unwisely. By the middle of the third, the faithful, who rode the WentzWagon to the top of the NFL, had seen enough.
They weren’t just angry at what they’d seen. They were terrified that four months of delicious, unexpected, building anticipation would implode the second week of January. What they saw in Game 14, against the toothless Giants, and what they saw again Monday night, against the hopeless Raiders, might presage the sort of soul-sucking deflation in the playoffs that Philadelphians could trademark.
They won because Ronald Darby intercepted Derek Carr, Foles righted himself for about 90 seconds and kicker Jake Elliott redeemed himself of a first-half miss with a last-minute make, for a 13-10 lead en route to a 19-10 win (the defense scored on the Raiders’ last play).
“We found a way to win,” head coach Doug Pederson said.
They won, sure. Hooray. 13-2.
They rendered the Cowboys game next week meaningless and locked up home-field advantage through the NFC Championship Game.
Yes. This team — this flawed, floundering team — had a chance to be in the NFC Championship Game. Once, with Carson Wentz, it was dominant. Now, with Foles, it was … less.
So, as in December 1968, the boos for St. Nick.
What chance would this team, playing this poorly, have against the Panthers or Seahawks or Falcons or Saints?
Foles wasn't only problem: To be fair, it wasn’t just Foles, Wentz’s overmatched understudy, who diminished Christmas cheer at Lincoln Financial Field.
Lane Johnson, who earned his first Pro Bowl trip Tuesday, had been called for two holding penalties and a false start, which is often the behavior of right tackles who face Raiders defensive end Kahlil Mack.
Jalen Mills, outraged on Tuesday that he hadn’t made his first Pro Bowl, had been burned for a touchdown in the second quarter on a simple move by Amari Cooper, the second straight week Mills gave up a TD.
Marshawn Lynch and Jalen Richard were on their way to 137 rushing yards … against the top-ranked rushing defense in the league.
The Eagles trailed by three, at home, in a 20-degree wind chill against a West Coast team playing a game that meant nothing to them professionally.
Fans not happy: The vocalized dissatisfaction was more a culmination of frustrations with the team as a whole than any pointed disappointment in Foles … at least, it was the first time.
Foles and Foles alone was the target in the middle of the fourth quarter, when he threw too high to Zach Ertz. This time, Nelson held on.
Thanks largely to Wentz, to brilliant coaching and to outstanding defensive line play, the Eagles entered Monday night with 12 wins and a playoff bye in hand. Wentz was hurt in the 11th win, and Foles took over … and that begins the story of how the Eagles of the late summer and fall bear little resemblance to the Birds of December.
They squeaked out a win in Los Angeles after they lost Wentz.
They smelled worse than the New Jersey swamplands when they beat Giants last week. Foles threw four TD passes. It was an aberration.
For Foles and the rest of the team, Monday night was more the Wentz-less norm.
The Eagles have nearly three weeks to either regain or remake themselves. Rest might cure some of the ills.
Pro Bowl defensive end Brandon Graham left with an ankle injury, and linebacker Mychal Kendricks played on a bad foot, which helps explain the porous run defense. Left guard Stefen Wisniewski missed the game with a bad ankle, which sends ripples all down the line.
Questions remain: Other questions remain.
Can Foles’ arm get appreciably better in three weeks? He was 19-for-38 for 163 yards, the interception and a screen-pass touchdown. He threw high and wide all night; that is, when he wasn’t low and short. Of course, there’s a reason why Brian Hoyer and Mike Glennon had starting jobs in September, while Nick Foles did not.
Can Nelson Agholor, this season’s feel-good redemption story, cure the case of dropsy that has afflicted him the past two games?
Can Pederson and his staff, whose offensive calls seem predictable and whose defense is on its heels, turn recent mediocrity into future competence?
If not, well, those weren’t the only boos St. Nick will hear before the season finally ends.