LOS ANGELES –- The Philadelphia Eagles here on Sunday won their first NFC East title in four years and lost their quarterback. It was as sugar and salt an episode as any of them could remember.
Their 43-35 tingling victory over the Los Angeles Rams made them laugh on the outside and cry on the inside. It made them smile and it made them frown.
Nick Foles is what. Carson Wentz’s knee injury, a torn ACL, will cost him the rest of this season. Foles is the backup-turned-starter asked to lift an 11-2, current NFC-top seed playoff team even higher.
The Eagles hope their furious offensive scheme and their array of offensive weaponry can offset the loss of Wentz. They hope Foles can be the quarterback he was for them in 2013 when he threw 27 touchdown passes and only two interceptions, not the pedestrian one that surfaced for the Rams and Chiefs afterward before he returned to Philadelphia this season.
"Well, that guy," Foles told me as he left the Los Angeles Coliseum, "is still here."
And Wentz is not.
In a shiny quarterback matchup between last year’s No. 1 (Jared Goff) and No. 2 picks, Wentz threw for 291 yards and four touchdowns before leaving the game due to a hit he took on his left knee late in the third quarter. In a significant sugar/salt moment for Wentz, he reached 33 touchdown passes for this season, the most in a season in Eagles history, surpassing Sonny Jurgensen’s 32 in 1961. Imagine how Wentz would have inflated that number with three regular-season games left.
He considered himself and the Eagles Super Bowl bound but now will watch to see if his team can get there. Goff (199 passing yards, two touchdowns) lost this encounter but remains alive for more. The Rams slipped to 9-4 and occasionally looked like the better team in this sizzling clash.
But Foles did enough in reserve to help the Eagles win it, and defensive end Chris Long made the play that shook it the Eagles way.
Long ripped around the left end and flew into the air while slapping the football from Goff’s hands. Long’s vault and forced turnover happened with 8:13 left and set up a field goal that gave Philadelphia a 37-35 lead. It was a menacing, athletic play.
It was a leap of faith.
"I saw the ball as he cocked it," said Long, "and I took a chance leaving my feet pretty sure I could get there in time. I saw it. I just knew it."
That was how the Eagles played the entire game.
Aggressive. Bold. Risky.
Early on they threw it long on a third-and-1 play, and it worked. They chucked it longer on a fourth-and-1 call before the half and that clicked. They went for it on a fourth-and-goal at the Rams’ 3-yard line late in the third quarter and converted. Those were among their brash offensive shots, but their defense, with Long’s leap the signature moment, took frisky shots, too.
"That was a great play," Eagles coach Doug Peterson said of Long. "But we had a few of those tonight. And we needed them."
The Rams kept answering until they couldn’t. They kept fighting until they blew up defensively with late penalties that kept Eagles drives functioning. The Rams saw Wentz go down, Foles enter, Goff battle and the game achingly slip away.
"It sucks to lose," Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree said. "Things happen in the heat of the game that you wish you could have done differently. We’d like to get to the playoffs and see them again."
Foles described his history with Pederson as long and layered. He said Pederson has confidence in him. And Foles has confidence in himself.
He said "Carson is a big piece of the puzzle" and "it’s emotional for me" as he watched the Eagles lose their starting quarterback.
But, he said, "I’m gonna be me."
Which me? The streaky Foles or the steady one?
And now what? NFC East champs then busts?
There is accountability among this Eagles team that has served them well, their veterans say. They expect Foles to artfully operate and for the defense to do more.
"After Carson took that hit, he came back to the huddle and you could tell something was bothering him, that something was not right," Eagles center Jason Kelce said. "He fought through it as long as he could. We fully expect Nick to give us everything he has."
It was the best and the worst all wrapped into a bundle of energy and nerves for the Eagles on this day of accomplishment yet grief. Everything is still out there for them to take, Pederson insisted.
It sounded like another Eagles leap of faith more than a promise.