On a chilly and blustery day at Veterans Stadium, then-rookie quarterback Donovan McNabb has his 4-11 Philadelphia Eagles involved in a slugfest with the NFC West division champion St. Louis Rams. Having lost his last four starts, and with the playoffs a ship that has long since sailed, McNabb is winding down his inaugural season in the NFL with first-year head coach Andy Reid.
Entering the fourth quarter, McNabb and the Eagles find themselves tied, 24-24, with the Greatest Show on Turf–or at least some semblance of it, as most of the St. Louis starters found a warm spot on the bench long before the game reached this point–and a chance to end the season with a victory.
Four minutes into the fourth quarter, the Eagles are knocking on the Rams’ door with the ball inside the ten-yard line following a methodical drive down field. McNabb drops back, checks his reads, and finds tight-end Chad Lewis in the corner of the endzone for the go-ahead score. After an Al Harris interception return for a touchdown later in the quarter, the Eagles would go on to win the game, 38-31, giving McNabb just his second victory as a starter, and first to come in the fourth quarter.
There are a lot of parallels between that game thirteen years ago and Sunday’s victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Meaningless game, rookie quarterback still getting his feet wet, late-game pressure.
At the time, I imagine–I was too young to actually notice–there were many fans that were just as upset about this victory as there were on Sunday.
What were those fans upset about both in January of 2000 and on Sunday? Draft position. You see, in 2000, the Eagles had positioned themselves nicely for a top-5 draft pick going into the season’s final week. By beating the shell of the St. Louis Rams in a meaningless game, they knocked themselves back to the sixth overall pick. On Sunday, the Eagles still had an outside chance at the first overall pick. A loss would move them closer to that goal, a win would vastly hurt their chances.
But in many ways, beating the Buccaneers with late game heroics by Nick Foles was more important to the future of this Eagles team than next spring’s draft. There are myriad reasons for this.
For one, Foles was recently handed the starting job by Reid. This was no mistake. Foles was given the position so the Eagles can evaluate him. Now, why many argue, perhaps correctly, that Foles can’t be accurately evaluated behind an offensive line as porous as the one the Eagles trot out weekly, there are still some things that can be learned about Foles–how he does under pressure, how he responds with his back against the wall. Real character-like stuff. Included in that is how Foles comes up in big spots. And, as Sunday showed, he has the ability to shine when the pressure is on.
Will this translate long-term? As of now, the jury is still out on that.
But with a weak quarterback class coming out of college this spring, and the likelihood of landing a franchise quarterback through free agency slim to none, there is a fair chance Foles still has the reigns as quarterback next season, when this team should be both improved and healthy. Leading a big drive to win a game in the waning seconds was a huge step in his development, and the experience could payback in dividends next season when the Birds hope to be more competitive.
But more importantly, the win won’t affect the Eagles draft position that drastically. Like in 2000, this win will probably be the difference between one spot in the draft (let’s say for argument’s sake, the fifth and sixth overall pick, just like in 2000). Drafting one position lower in the order does not make or break a franchise. Either way, the Eagles are still locked in to a top ten pick, and, if they draft correctly, are almost certain to get an immediate difference maker. Sunday’s win doesn’t change that one bit.
So, will the win hurt the Eagles? Absolutely not. Looking back to 2000, let’s see who was drafted before the Eagles had a chance to make a selection: Courtney Brown, LaVar Arrington, Chris Samuels, Peter Warrick and Jamal Lewis. Not exactly a list of superstars, huh?
The Eagles drafted Corey Simon with the sixth pick and I’d say he was unarguably the most successful player on this list (Jamal Lewis is up there, but the Birds had Duce Staley already). As for McNabb? Well, you know how he developed.
So let Foles win some games. In the long run, the team will be better off.Tags: National Football League, Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles