Jan 6, 2019; Chicago, IL, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles (9) throws a pass against the Chicago Bears in the first half of a NFC Wild Card playoff football game at Soldier Field.

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Five observations from NFL’s Wild Card Weekend

Foles magic, Nagy incompetence, and a youth-movement reality check

Seth Dunlap
January 07, 2019 - 6:31 pm
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1.  The Eagles are better, more dangerous, with Nick Foles at QB

Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback Nick Foles is at it again.  Foles has led the Eagles to a 9-1 record in December and January the last two seasons, and he has his team in a very familiar position – a highly talented team that will be nevertheless be significant underdogs throughout the playoffs.   Foles worked his magic on 4th and goal with under a minute to play against the Bears, connecting with Golden Tate on what would be the game winning touchdown.   It appears the Foles Magic is real, and the Saints must certainly be somewhat concerned about what tricks he may be up to in the Superdome this weekend.   Whether he is a more talented quarterback than Carson Wentz is irrelevant.  The Eagles play better with him under center.  They’ll have a real interesting dilemma this offseason when they firmly decide on Foles or Wentz as their long term answer at the position.

2.  What was Matt Nagy thinking?

Bears head coach Matt Nagy has (rightfully) been thought of as a Coach of the Year candidate for his work in Chicago and the development of Trubisky.   Nagy, however, looked like a young deer-in-the-headlights coach in the final minutes against Philadelphia.   If clock management is one of a head coach's main responsibilities, give Nagy an 'F' grade yesterday.   He failed to call a timeout after the Eagles first-and-goal play with under two minutes to play.   The Bears had all three timeouts remaining, and the immensely correct decision there was to call a timeout to conserve time for your offense, should the Eagles score a go-ahead touchdown.  Instead, Nagy decided to let another 40 seconds run off the clock, time the Bears surely would have loved to get back during their final drive.   Then, in the final seconds when the Bears has gotten themselves into field goal range and the clock stopped with 10 seconds left on third down, Nagy decided to use his last timeout. What?  There were a couple of options for Nagy in that spot, but one of those options should never be to burn a timeout for no reason at all.   The Bears could have run another play to get closer for kicker Cody Parkey – yardage they surely would have loved considering Parkey’s game-winning field goal attempt ricocheted off the left upright.  The other option was to send Parkey out immediately on third down, and save that timeout should something unforeseen happen, like a bad snap or a missed block on an Eagles' rusher.  Holder Pat O’Donnell could have covered up the football in that case, and then immediately called timeout and given the Bears another attempt. Instead, Nagy did the mind-boggling thing by burning a timeout before sending Parkey out for his ill-fated attempt.

3.  Young quarterbacks got a big playoff reality check

Each game on Wild Card weekend had one team led by a quarterback who was 25 years old or younger.  The NFL’s youth movement at the position was a bit jarring, but the regular season results seemed to speak for themselves.  The league was supposedly entering an era where the young, exciting quarterbacks were supplanting the quarterbacking greybeards as bannermen for the NFL’s offensive revolution.  Patrick Mahomes is the favorite to win league MVP.   Jared Goff led the Rams to a 13-3 record and a first round bye.  However, the playoffs are proving yet again to be the feeding ground for the grizzled veterans.  Deshaun Watson, Lamar Jackson, and Mitchell Trubisky all lost at home as favorites.  Only Dak Prescott escaped to play in the Divisional Round, and even he needed a bit of vertical striped home cooking (see below) along the way.   Now, the second weekend of playoff football will see a usual cast of veteran NFL quarterbacks including Drew Brees, Tom Brady, and Philip Rivers along with not-so-young-anymore guys like Andrew Luck and Nick Foles.   Perhaps it isn’t quite time to declare the NFL’s old guard of signal callers finished.

4.  The Colts, Andrew Luck, could win a Super Bowl this year

Yes, the AFC’s sixth and final playoff team are as capable of any remaining in that conference of making it to Atlanta and winning one game against whoever their opponent would be.   Quarterback Andrew Luck is playing as well as he has at any point in his career, and the Colts are probably just now entering an extended Super Bowl window with Luck under center.  Think the Aaron Rodgers era in Green Bay or the Seahawks with Russell Wilson.  It’s hard to believe that the Colts, with Luck, will ever be anything but a contender.  They might not always be the favorite, but they’ll at least in that group of teams that nobody really wants to play in January.   Speaking of the Colts opponents, now they go to Kansas City where the Chiefs haven’t won a playoff game since the Clinton Administration – his first term – and are dealing with the annual “Andy Reid is terrible in January” headlines.   Kansas City is favored in Las Vegas, but that’s a true tossup on the football field. 

5.  NFL officiating continues to implode (and why are Walt Anderson’s crews always suspiciously terrible during Cowboys games?)

That headline may be a bit over the top.  I believe that the men and women who officiate professional football are some of the best at their profession, and I don’t believe there’s any real top-down conspiracy by the league offices to make sure one team wins and another is sent packing.  That said, I’m not naive enough to think there’s not pressure, direct or indirectly, to make sure the league’s preferred franchises (and media markets) are playing late in January.  However, the atrocious mess that was the final eight or so minute so of the Dallas-Seattle game was a little snapshot of just how bad the optics of NFL officiating are right now.  Referee Walt Anderson spend the majority of those final minutes making suspicious call after suspicious call that unanimously benefitted the Cowboys down the stretch.  Most egregious, probably, were the two pass interference calls on Seattle during Dallas third downs and then the missed block in the back call on Cowboys’ tight end Blake Jarwin, who shoved Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner from behind on the critical Dak Prescott scramble on third-and-14.  Anderson also missed an obvious Cowboys’ facemask penalty on Russell Wilson on an early third down play that could have changed the momentum and completion of that football game.  Walt Anderson has been heavily criticized by others before when he’s officiated Cowboys games (Anderson is a Texas native) and it boggles the mind why the NFL would give him this high profile assignment.  Something must be done in the offseason to make the officials less visible, especially in critical moments of big playoff games.  Let’s also watch how the rest of the Cowboys games are officiated in the playoffs.

 

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