By ROB MAADDI, AP Pro Football Writer
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Nick Foles stood tall in the pocket, ignored the pressure and made one big throw after another.
On the biggest stage of his life, Foles silenced the critics who thought the Eagles couldn’t get to the Super Bowl without MVP candidate Carson Wentz. Foles threw for 352 and three touchdowns to lead Philadelphia to a convincing 38-7 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC championship game Sunday.
Now he’s headed to Minnesota to face Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.
“Words can’t describe what I feel right now,” Foles said. “All glory goes to God. I’m grateful and humbled to be part of this team. No one in the locker room doubted me. We kept working, I got more reps in practice and it’s a rhythm thing.”
While Wentz watched from the sideline, using a cane to walk following surgery to repair his torn left ACL, Foles picked apart the NFL’s top-ranked defense. He tossed a perfect 53-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery with the pocket collapsing around him to give Philadelphia a 21-7 lead in the second quarter.
Foles then directed a 60-yard drive in 29 seconds to set up a field goal before halftime. He fired a 49-yard TD pass to Torrey Smith off a flea flicker to start the second half and tossed a 5-yard TD to Jeffery early in the fourth to make it 38-7.
Foles was at his best on third downs, completing 10 of 11 for 159 yards and two TDs. The Eagles had been 0 for 13 on third-and-10 or longer after Wentz went down. On Sunday, Foles threw an 11-yard pass to Zach Ertz on third-and-10 on the Eagles’ first touchdown drive. His long TD pass to Jeffery came on third-and-10.
The Eagles (15-3) have been underdogs in both playoffs games, mostly because Wentz was no longer playing. They were the first No. 1 seed not favored in a divisional round game, a 15-10 win over the Falcons. The Vikings (14-4) were 3-point favorites despite also being led by a backup quarterback — Case Keenum, Foles’ good friend and former teammate.
“You know everyone was against us,” Foles said. “Coming out here, stick together and come away with an amazing victory against a great team.”
Keenum congratulated Foles in the tunnel after the game.
“He did a great job,” Keenum said.
Foles walked into the X-ray room after the game, but told The Associated Press after he came out: “I’m good. I’m fine.”
Foles put on a passing clinic, completing 78.8 percent of his passes (26 of 33). Not bad for a guy who contemplated retirement before the 2016 season.
“I’m not surprised,” said Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, who held the same position with the Eagles in 2013. “I’ve seen the best of Nick.”
A third-round pick by former Eagles coach Andy Reid in 2012, Foles had tremendous success as a starter under Chip Kelly his sophomore season. He threw 29 TDs and only two picks in 11 starts, including playoffs in 2013. Foles posted a passer rating of 119.2, third-highest in league history. He tied an NFL record with seven TD passes in a game at Oakland in November 2013 won an offensive MVP award at a Pro Bowl.
But Foles was traded to St. Louis for Sam Bradford in March 2015. He lost his starting job to Keenum and asked for his release after Jared Goff was drafted No. 1 overall. Foles considered hanging up his cleats before Reid persuaded him to go to Kansas City to be Alex Smith’s backup.
After one season with the Chiefs, Foles returned to Philly to provide insurance behind Wentz.
He’ll become a folk hero if he can deliver the franchise’s first ever Super Bowl title.
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