In Pittsburgh back in 2004, starter Tommy Maddox went down with an elbow injury early in the season, forcing Ben Roethlisberger into action. Veteran lineman Alan Faneca was asked at the time if he was excited to see what the rookie could do.
“Exciting?” Faneca said. “No, it’s not exciting. Do you want to go work with some little young kid who’s just out of college?”
Roethlisberger went 13-0 as a starter that year and led the Steelers to an appearance in the AFC Championship Game. He was the 11th overall pick and wasn't exactly replacing a legend, but there was resistance.
This is a brutally tough league and the window for every player is always threatening to slam shut. There is little patience for a project.
Nobody has given Nick Foles a stiff arm like Faneca did Roethlisberger. As the Michael Vick-Foles joint press conference illustrated, this is a pretty unique situation. Vick has put team in front of self-interest, and that has really set the tone. There is support for whoever is under center.
That's not to say that Foles hasn't been climbing uphill in some way. This preseason he was charged with not only winning the quarterback competition but also winning the hearts and minds of his teammates -- some of whom once idolized Vick.
"To be honest, we all kind of looked up to Mike Vick growing up, and playing with him is something special," said LeSean McCoy.
"Vick and me and McCoy, we're definitely a tight group," added DeSean Jackson. "We've played so long here and done some great things as well. That's n0t going to change."
That was really an underplayed element of the quarterback duel during training camp: Guys like Jackson and McCoy are not only close with Vick but intimately familiar with his body of work. What could Foles have done to convince them that he was a better option? Especially in this system, which rewards mobile quarterbacks? Vick was the more desirable choice.
Foles has had to earn his wings and, while the jury is still out, the second-year QB took a big step forward Sunday against the Raiders. Loyalty and trust in this game is linked largely to production, and Foles definitely had that offense humming in Oakland.
"Nick fits right in," said McCoy of the Vick-Jackson-McCoy dynamic.
"Nick is a young guy but he is playing well. Me and DeSean have had that role where being young, we had to step up and make plays. And Nick is stepping right up and doing the same thing."
"Honestly man, he's just taking the business side of it: coming in early, staying later, just hanging around the guys and just being a leader," Jackson added. "When you have young guys come in they really don't know what to expect but early in his career he's able to stay around here and just motivate guys, have those characteristics that you want in a quarterback. I see a big change in him since last year."
The relationship between Vick and Foles seems genuine. And, as the sample size grows larger, the key playmakers' faith in the green QB appears to be growing.
"Having Foles come in, really with the position where Vick has been, we've still been able to be like an older brother to him and kind of help him out throughout the process.," said Jackson. "He definitely took everything in, he's learning. We all just have fun together, play the game with a lot of passion."
"I have a great relationship with the both of them," said Foles of Jackson and McCoy. "I think all of us who are younger watched Mike when we were that age and looked up to him, in awe of what he can do and what he did back then. Mike's been great. He's been very supportive of me throughout this. You all saw first hand how him and I interact and nothing's changed and that's what is special about it. LeSean and DeSean, we have a great relationship. They play extremely hard and they're great players."
WHAT YOU MISSED
Sheil goes into the lab to reveal how Foles and the offense rebounded.
What does an Eagles' "rookie initiation" consist of? We take a look.
Notes on Zach Ertz, the defense and Foles' secret weapons from Sunday.
Kelly weighs in on the recent health scares for a pair of NFL head coaches.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
MMQB came up with a midseason All-Pro team. McCoy and Evan Mathis represent the Eagles.
McCoy leads the league with 777 rushing yards, and he’s fumbled just once. It won’t be long before critics knock McCoy as a “system back,” but Shady is just tremendous, especially in space. The only question is if he can last the season as the workhorse...
Mathis is simply the best guard in the game, and it’s not even really close. Just a phenomenal athlete and top-notch technician.
Mike Foss of USA Today wonders whether Foles' performance is a good thing for the Eagles.
Average quarterbacks don’t throw for seven touchdowns and 400 yards in a game. Peyton Manning throws seven touchdowns in a game. Perhaps even more impressive is that Foles only threw six incompletions Sunday. He threw more touchdowns than incompletions.
Unassuming backup quarterbacks don’t have that output in them — stars do. So now what is to be done with totally average star quarterback Nick Foles? Lucky for Kelly, Vick’s status remains up in the air so perhaps a decision won’t need to be made immediately. Perhaps Foles’ play will even out and any questions will answer themselves. But the best scenario for Kelly could very well be that Foles fails, and Philadelphia has a shot at drafting a quarterback that fits his system better than either current option. Kelly’s former quarterback and current Heisman contender Marcus Mariota will be on the board after all.
But if Foles continues to perform and the Eagles continue winning, the most unassuming of eras could be beginning in Philadelphia whether anyone wants it to or not.
We'll speak to Kelly in the morning before practice.