Nick Foles never defeated Chip Kelly in college.
The former Arizona quarterback’s three battles against the Oregon coach played out like a 100-meter dash featuring Usain Bolt. Even if the Wildcats jumped out of the blocks with a sizable lead, the Ducks sprinted right by them before the finish line.
“Most of the time it’d be either right with them or ahead of them going into halftime or in the second quarter,” Foles said. “Then all of a sudden the second half comes around and their endurance and the way that they played kept getting stronger and stronger as the game went on.”
Things have changed in their first season together with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Foles won’t have to worry about losing to Kelly, who announced the quarterback will be his starter “for the next 1,000 years.” Heck, Foles has hardly tasted defeat under his new coach, developing so quickly the Eagles are gunning for a playoff spot after a 4-12 season.
Foles, a third-round selection in the 2012 draft, solidified the quarterback position after taking over for Michael Vick, posting a 6-1 record as a starter. Foles has started seven of the past eight games and leads the league with a 120.0 passer rating; he set a record for the highest rating in one month in NFL history (152.8 in November).
“It’s our first time through everything, and I see Nick and he doesn’t make the same mistake twice,” said Kelly, who replaced Andy Reid in January. “He’s constantly improving, and it’s fun to watch his growth.”
Foles’ greatest attribute as a quarterback is vision, which has resulted in his ability to minimize turnovers. Foles threw an interception last week against the Lions, his first this season. Before that error, he became the second quarterback in NFL history to throw 19 touchdowns without an interception.
But he didn’t throw many interceptions against Kelly at Oregon either. Foles had 10 touchdowns to just two interceptions against the Ducks, racking up 1,160 passing yards — the most against any opponent during Foles’ collegiate career.
“We had some great games against him and [he showed] just how tough and resilient he was,” Kelly said. “We hit him a lot, and he just kept getting up and making plays. He had really good days against us.”
Before Foles led the Eagles on their current five-game win streak, they were 3-5 juggling between three quarterbacks because of injuries. Vick pulled a hamstring in Week 5, which gave Foles the opportunity to play. He strung consecutive victories together for the first time this season, then Foles suffered a concussion against the Cowboys.
It paved the way for another ex-Pac 12 quarterback, Matt Barkley of USC, who looked anything but impressive, leading some to write off Kelly’s up-tempo offense.
“I don’t think anybody in this building wrote us off and those are the only people that count to us, so we didn’t pay attention to any of the outside noise,” said Kelly, a strong candidate for Coach of the Year — along with Reid, who is leading the Chiefs to the playoffs.
All Kelly needed was consistency at the quarterback position — a feeling Vikings coach Leslie Frazier knows all too well — and he got it once Foles was cleared to play in Week 9 against the Raiders. Foles threw for a career-high 406 passing yards and became just the seventh player in NFL history to throw seven touchdowns in a game.
“He’s making good decisions,” Vikings defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. “He’s getting the ball where it needs to be and he’s getting it out of his hands if it’s a play that’s necessarily a broken-down play, so the quarterback is doing more than just managing the ballgame.”
Foles hasn’t surpassed 300 passing yards since, but he said the game has slowed down for him in the fast-break offense. He credits Kelly and the staff for the game plan preparation leading to his success.
“A lot of it makes sense as to why they were a successful program because of who Chip is as a person and what he brings to the table as a head coach,” Foles said. “He’s a great head coach that really the players love. He had a huge impact on us when he speaks to us and how he does things. He really cares about us, so you really go out there and play for a guy like that.”
The same coach that denied Foles victory has helped guide him there, all in a two-year span.