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Path to the Passer: Nick Foles not looking at future beyond unlikely Super Bowl start

This is the second in a series of in-depth features on potential quarterbacks for the Bills.

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Nick Foles insists he's living in the moment.

He refuses to ponder the possibility of quarterbacking a team other than the Philadelphia Eagles next season, even if there's more than a reasonable chance of that being the case.

At least, that's Foles' public position.

"You know what?" he said, during a media session before facing the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII Sunday. "We'll worry about that if that time comes. I'm just grateful to be in this position, be with this team."

By "position," Foles is referring to his unlikely climb from backup to starter on a team that had already put itself on an inside track to the big game. The primary reason the Eagles were in such a spot was the play of their No. 1 quarterback, Carson Wentz.

On Dec. 10, Wentz suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Los Angeles Rams. That thrust Foles into the spotlight and prompted speculation, largely based on a lack of faith that he would even come close to replicating what Wentz was doing to put himself in the conversation to NFL MVP, the Eagles' magical run was coming to an abrupt end.

Not quite.

In two playoff games, Foles wound up performing well enough to have the best passer rating of the postseason at 122.1. You know who has the highest passer rating in postseason history for quarterbacks who have at least 75 pass attempts? If you guessed Tom Brady, you'd be wrong. It's Foles, who in three games has completed 72 of 96 passes for 793 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions. That gives him a passer rating of 116.4.

With Wentz expected to return from his injury next season, can Foles, who has a year left on his contract, simply return to the No. 2 role as if the Super Bowl never happened? Especially if he happens to lead the Eagles to victory?

"Yeah, absolutely," Foles said without hesitation. "I'm grateful to be here, to be a part of this organization. I can't wait to play the game and after the game, that's where you have time to sort of reflect on the year and that's what we'll do. I'll spend time with my family, use that family time, but the future will take care of itself.

"I'm grateful to have signed a two-year deal with the Philadelphia Eagles to be here. I'm excited to watch Carson get healthy, get back on his feet and, hopefully, being a part of him being back to where he was."

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There's no reason to question Foles' sincerity. He's a highly spiritual person, as grounded a player as you'll find. In fact, after football, the 29-year-old Foles plans to become a pastor and is already taking on-line seminary courses.

You want more proof that this guy defines himself as much more than a professional athlete? He was ready to walk away from the game after playing for the St. Louis Rams in 2015. That year, Foles and Case Keenum, now with the Minnesota Vikings, combined for a 7-9 record as starters. Only an invitation that Foles accepted to sign with the Kansas City Chiefs to back up Alex Smith — and be reunited with Andy Reid, his coach during his first stint with the Eagles — kept him going for another season.

Still, reality suggests Foles could very well emerge as someone other teams in the market for a quarterback will covet.

With one big domino falling, thanks to the Chiefs trading Smith to the Washington Redskins, other veterans are forming a potential free-agent/trade short list that begins with the Redskins' Kirk Cousins. Other names being mentioned are Keenum, who led the Minnesota Vikings to the NFC title game but could hit the open market, and Foles.

"Any time you step in for a guy when he gets injured it's tough because you never want to see anyone get injured," Foles said. "With Carson, I work with him every single day so that's tough because you feel for him. We're people. It is a game, but we're people and we care for one another.

"And then to just step into the huddle and go out there, it takes time because I haven't been in that situation where you're taking the first-time reps, you're playing in the game, but that's where the support system of the team — the coaches, the players, everyone around me — helped me tremendously."

Foles' first two starts of the season, which came against the Oakland Raiders on Christmas night and the Dallas Cowboys on New Year's Eve, were a bit shaky. In the Eagles' 19-10 triumph against the Raiders, he completed 19 of 38 passes for 163 yards and a touchdown, with one interception, for a 59.4 passer rating. In Philly's 6-0 loss against Dallas, Foles was 4-of-11 for 39 yards and an interception. His passer rating was a putrid 9.3.

Foles proved that he was ready for the heightened level of competition of the playoffs with an efficient showing in the Eagles' 15-10 divisional-round win against the Atlanta Falcons. He was 23-for-30 for 246 yards, and began calming the nerves of anxious Eagle fans.

Foles was even more impressive the following week, connecting on 26 of 33 passes for 352 yards and three touchdowns to help Philadelphia to a 38-7 pounding of the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game. Although the Eagles were underdogs in both games — call it the Foles Effect — they reached the place Wentz was expected to take them with Wentz watching from the sidelines.

Doug Pederson, the Eagles' head coach, and Frank Reich, their offensive coordinator, have a thorough understanding of Foles' situation. Each has been through it as backup quarterbacks themselves — Pederson as Brett Favre's understudy with the Green Bay Packers and Reich as Jim Kelly's backup with the Buffalo Bills — and that helped convince Foles that the confidence they expressed in him was genuine.

"I think the great part about our relationship — Doug and I and all of us with Nick — was, even though the outside world was going crazy and thinking the wheels were falling off, not just (from) our team but our offense, which had had such a dynamic year," Reich said. "Literally, internally, there wasn't even a seed of doubt in Nick Foles or in what we were doing offensively in the schemes that we had done all year long, in the players that we have. Everybody knew that Carson was a dynamic player, but we also knew that this team was much stronger than any one player.

"And that's, I think, the confidence we had and I think that Nick felt even when we went through that game and a half that wasn't so hot offensively."

It should be pointed out the Eagles originally made Foles a third-round draft pick from Arizona in 2012. He was held in high enough regard to command a reasonably high draft pick. It also should be pointed out that, in 2013, he played well enough to tie an NFL record with seven touchdowns in a game, lead the league in passer rating, and be selected to the Pro Bowl.

However, after the 2014 season, then-Eagles coach Chip Kelly traded Foles to the Rams and from then on he effectively became labeled as lacking what it took to be a reliable starter.

"I think everyone's going to be critical about different things," Foles said. "But at the same time, this is a process, this is a journey. You want to go out there every single game and you want to play lights-out, but that's very, very hard to do. I haven't played lights-out every game.

"Obviously, everyone wants to go to 2013. That was a really special year, but I think just a part of the journey, the life experiences, just things going on in life. It's not necessarily the football experiences that have shaped me to have the mindset right now. It's the off-the-field stuff -- having a daughter, being married, having the more responsibilities. I mean, that's the stuff that shapes your heart, that shapes you, that changes the perspective of the game."

If the Eagles win Sunday, the perspective that the rest of the NFL has regarding Foles could change dramatically ... if it hasn't already done so.

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