Nick Foles came off the bench to lead his team to victory on another NFL Sunday.
Stop me if you’ve seen that sentence before, even as a crass generalisation.
Only now, the context has changed. As well as Foles’ team. Again.
And stop me if you’ve heard that again, too.
Heatedly to the chagrin of the Philadelphia Eagles’ demanding fans – a group whose ancestors once jeered Santa Claus – it’s not their team. And fans of the Jacksonville Jaguars barely had a chance to see this eventuate in the brief time that Foles was in central Florida.
Or in between, the Rams when they were in St Louis, or even with an Alex Smith era – and pre-Patrick Mahomes – Kansas City Chiefs, each of whom he also endured very brief stays before he enjoyed a very successful second tour of duty with the Eagles that ended with Super Bowl LII MVP honours in 2018.
Rather, this is happening with the Chicago Bears.
As the Bears trailed the Atlanta Falcons on the road at Mercedes-Benz Stadium 26-10 midway through the third quarter, all Foles did was throw for three touchdowns in the game’s last four-and-a-half minutes to give the Bears an unlikely win.
But wait… this story possesses more wrinkles on a face that would make a Hollywood plastic surgeon giddy.
Sure, against the Bears, the Falcons blew a two-touchdown lead for the second week running. And up the east coast, Carson Wentz – the quarterback who missed the Eagles’ stretch run to that Super Bowl win due to suffering a torn ACL late in the 2017 season, and who coach Doug Pederson ultimately chose over Foles to be the Eagles’ starting signal-caller the following season – could only manage to lead Philadelphia to a 23-23 tie against a lowly-but-improving Cincinnati Bengals side.
Granted, the paths of both Foles and Wentz have endured rocky roads since the Eagles’ Super Bowl win, and when that win was highlighted with Foles’ execution of the “Philly Philly” gadget play that will live forever in Philadelphia sporting lore. While Foles has bounced around the NFL in multiple trades to Jacksonville and Chicago since that iconic win over the New England Patriots, Wentz has experienced a 14-15-1 record as the Eagles’ full-time starting quarterback since then.
And then there’s Foles’ new situation in Chicago.
The Bears traded for Foles in a draft-day swap with the Jaguars, sending a fourth-round pick in the 2020 NFL draft to acquire the much-travelled quarterback. And Foles arrived in the Windy City with the understanding that he would serve as the back-up to Mitch Trubisky, whom the Bears tabbed with their first pick – and the second overall selection – in the 2017 draft, selected ahead of both Mahomes and Houston’s Deshaun Watson.
Following that draft, Trubisky was hailed as the saviour of a franchise that had only been back to one Super Bowl appearance since the Bears’ legendary 1985 championship under Mike Ditka. And in spite of their storied history, the quarterback position is not one which NFL afficionados associate with the Bears, a team more renowned for its great traditions in defence, with Mike Singletary and Richard Dent leading defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan’s famed “46 Defence” set-up that helped win Super Bowl XX, and running backs such as the late Walter Payton and the recently departed Gale Sayers.
Aside from Jim McMahon, who led the Bears to that lone Super Bowl win, Jay Cutler, who holds a variety of team passing records, and the legendary Sid Luckman from the NFL’s leather helmet days, the Bears’ list of quarterbacks over the years has existed as an ever-revolving door to who can hold onto the starting position for more than a couple of seasons.
Not exactly ideal for continuity and establishing a consistent winning tradition from season to season.
And debate over the Bears’ starting quarterback status may be the last thing coach Matt Nagy needs, especially for a team that – with the win over the Falcons – stayed perfect through the first three weeks of the 2020 season.
Trubisky didn’t have a bad game statistically – 13-of-22 passing for 128 yards, one touchdown and one interception – but after the interception he threw, badly, to Blidi-Wreh Wilson midway through the third quarter, Nagy said he had a gut decision to bench Trubisky in favour of Foles.
And Foles responded in style – despite throwing an end zone interception to Darqueze Dennard that could have easily been a touchdown to longtime Bears wide receiver Allen Robinson, Foles went 16-of-29 passing for 188 yards and touchdown passes to Jimmy Graham, Robinson and Anthony Miller to pull the result out for the Bears.
Foles’ late heroics won’t make Nagy’s decision as to who starts against the Indianapolis Colts next week very easy, as he will consult with his coaching staff midweek to decide between Foles and Trubisky.
And Nagy said that whoever they pick between the two, barring injury, will be leading the Bears for the remainder of the 2020 season.
“If it’s Mitch, you roll. If it’s Nick, you roll. I don’t want it to be back and forth,” Nagy said after the win over Atlanta.
Quarterback controversies are conceivably as old as the NFL itself – for the current generation, it’s not just Foles or Wentz, or Joe Montana versus Steve Young. It even goes back before the controversy around Norm Van Brocklin or Bob Waterfield with the Los Angeles Rams in the 1950’s, one of numerous such dilemmas surrounding that team. And debates such as these will endure beyond the barstools and armchairs among NFL fans.
And Foles, battles against Wentz aside, is no stranger to these starting quarterback competitions, having fought off challenges from the likes of Michael Vick, Mark Sanchez, Case Keenum, Smith and Gardner Minshew since entering the NFL in 2012. Trying to wrestle the Bears’ starting quarterback job away from Trubisky is just another challenge in his long career.