PHILADELPHIA — Nick Foles met with Chip Kelly on Tuesday morning, when the Eagles coach told the second-year quarterback that he would remain the starter this season and that Michael Vick would be his backup.
The decision was expected. Foles is 4-1 as a starter, leads the NFL in passer rating, and has 16 passing touchdowns and zero interceptions. Kelly had delayed a formal decision until Vick returned to practice from a hamstring injury.
“The big thing is just continue to approach the game the same way I have each and every week,” Foles said. “You don’t change anything just because of an announcement or anything that goes on.”
The announcement continued a turbulent season of quarterbacking in Philadelphia. Foles and Vick engaged in a competition during the offseason, training camp, and the preseason, when they split snaps and starts. Vick ultimately won the job after the second preseason game, at which point Kelly gave Vick the first-team snaps and did not want the veteran looking over his shoulder.
Both Vick and Foles suffered injuries this season. Vick’s second hamstring injury opened the door for Foles, and he has won three straight games.
“He’s played a lot more games, and you get a lot more body of work to see him play,” Kelly said. “I think he’s done a great job of protecting the football and not putting us in bad situations. When we have a shot and can take it down the field, he’s proven he can do that. He’s got a great command of what we’re doing. He’s a lot more comfortable in what we’re doing. So it’s just kind of an ongoing process for him.”
If there’s anyone who can understand the position Foles has put Kelly in, it’s Vick. In 2010, Vick replaced Kevin Kolb after an injury and ultimately unseated him. Vick has remained supportive of Foles during his recovery. Kelly and the other players in the locker room lauded Vick for the way he’s handled Foles’ ascent. Vick said when he met with Kelly on Tuesday, Kelly did not need to provide much explanation.
“You can’t be naive,” Vick said. “You’ve got to understand the situation. You’ve got to see it and just know that the most important thing for me to do is to be there to support my team. I didn’t want to make this a hard decision for Coach; I didn’t want to make it a hard decision for anybody, for myself.”
Players were not surprised by Kelly’s decision. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson said the team has experienced “good success” with Foles. The long-standing refrain from players has been that the roster includes two starting quarterbacks, and there’s an understanding that Kelly could not disrupt the team’s momentum with Foles.
“I guess the writing was on the wall,” cornerback Cary Williams said. “He’s had a tremendous year. He’s ascending. You can’t take that from him right now. I just feel like it’s common sense. You look at the production on the field, you look at what he’s bringing to the table, you look at how well the team is playing as a nucleus.”
Kelly emphasized the importance of having a No. 1 quarterback. He did not want the starter to worry about the repercussions of a mistake. He said the players must play “from a desire to excel, not a fair of failure.”
Foles said the meeting was matter of fact, and joked that it was not “drawn-out like in movies,” complete with tears. Kelly delivered the news and they joked about Oregon’s loss to Arizona, Foles’ alma mater, last week. But it also allowed Foles the peace of mind of knowing it’s his job.
“It is great to have a coach that is honest and up front with his players and tells them what’s going on, instead of just hiding it from them,” Foles said. “I do respect Chip for that.”
The challenge for Foles will be sustaining this pace. The Eagles are tied with Dallas atop the NFC East at 6-5, and Foles has not played in games with postseason implications. He insisted that he cannot think about the final five games in bulk, and the key is maintaining the approach he has kept to this point, worrying only about Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals.
Sustained production could keep Foles in the starting spot beyond this season. He’s 24 and will have the opportunity to prove he can become a championship-level franchise quarterback.
Foles also must stay on the field. Kelly’s message to Vick was similar to the one he gave Foles in August: The backup is a chin strap away from being the starter.
“I’ve said it a thousand times, I’ll say it again: you’ve got to think about it on a one-week basis, and that’s it,” Kelly said. “Long-term in the NFL is one week.”