This was supposed to be Carson Wentz’s moment, Philadelphia’s fearless phenom carrying fervent, frenzied football fans and a franchise forever desperate to win its first Super Bowl on his strapping young shoulders on an exhilarating journey into the history books.
It is Nick Foles’ moment instead.
And now that Super Bowl dream hangs on a shaky wing and a prayer.
The Eagles are the NFC’s No. 1 seed and they are home three-point underdogs Saturday to the sixth-seeded Falcons … the first underdog top seed in the divisional round.
“We do it together. It’s not any one man. It never was any one man,” Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich said.
This is how you spin it when you lose a Carson Wentz and you are asked to defeat the defending NFC champions with Nick Foles.
You talk about running back Jay Ajayi being more of a factor, and coordinator Jim Schwartz’s ornery defense hounding Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and slowing running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. You talk about the rabid hometown crowd willing their Iggles to the NFC Championship game.
Because your replacement quarterback has converted only 22.2 percent of his third-down conversions and averaged 5.43 yards per attempt since Wentz went out with a torn ACL on Dec. 10 against the Rams and took with him 33 touchdowns, if not his team’s swagger, too.
“The reasons we went out and got Nick Foles were for reasons like this and for situations like this,” Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said at the time.
The irony is that four years ago Foles was Wentz, a precocious gunslinger who replaced Michael Vick, who had a hamstring injury, and threw 27 TDs with just two interceptions and took the Eagles to the playoffs, only to lose the wild-card game to Drew Brees and the Saints at the Linc.
“He’s the starting quarterback for the next 1,000 years here,” then-coach Chip Kelly said late in that season.
Foles was the starting quarterback for eight more games before breaking his collarbone in 2014 and then he was traded before the 2015 season for Sam Bradford. And then he lost his starting job with the Jeff Fisher Rams to Case Keenum.
“He may not be fleet of foot,” Kelly said four years ago, “but he’s fleet of mind.”
Pederson is hoping the bye week has helped Foles — who had a 9.3 passer rating in a 6-0 loss in the regular-season finale against the Cowboys — develop some much-needed chemistry with receiver Alshon Jeffery and remember how to take shots downfield. If Foles plays not to lose, he cannot possibly write the kind of story Jeff Hostetler wrote when he replaced Phil Simms and led the Giants to victory in Super Bowl XXV.
The Falcons spent the regular season trying to ignore questions about a Super Bowl hangover, and their silencing of the Rams last Saturday night shows how dangerous a playoff-hardened team can be.
Eagles fans searching for that silver lining in every cloud may find comfort in the fact this will not be Foles’ maiden playoff game. And he was 23-for-33 for 195 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in that last-second 26-24 loss to the Saints. He hit Zach Ertz with a 3-yard TD pass with 4:54 left to grab a 24-23 lead. And he never saw the ball again.
“I’m hurting inside right now, in my heart,” Foles said in the interview room that night.
You can only imagine how Eagles fans, who have helplessly watched the Giants winning four Super Bowls since the 1986 season, have been hurting. They have endured four straight playoff losses since beating the Giants on Jan. 11, 2009.
“But, I’m going to keep my head held high,” Foles went on, “because I love my teammates, I love this city and I’m going to keep fighting for this city.
“I love playing here, I love this city, I love this organization, because I know the heart of it. The heart of it is the heart of Philadelphia.”
This much they know in Philadelphia: Rocky was an underdog, too.