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Nick Foles Outduels Deshaun Watson as Eagles Get Crucial Win vs. Texans

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistDecember 23, 2018

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 23:  Quarterback Nick Foles #9 of the Philadelphia Eagles throws a pass against the Houston Texans in the first quarter at Lincoln Financial Field on December 23, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Nick Foles still has the magic. And the defending Super Bowl champions are still alive. 

The Philadelphia Eagles (8-7) beat the Houston Texans, 32-30, keeping their playoff hopes afloat. Foles saved the Eagles' season, driving the Birds down the field on the last possession of the game to set up a Jake Elliott 35-yard game-winning field goal.

NFL @NFL

.@Jake_Elliott22 FOR THE @EAGLES WIN! #FlyEaglesFly https://t.co/ogsnBjtzZ4

Foles was excellent once again for Philadelphia, throwing for 471 yards and four scores, but a costly fumble inside his own 10-yard line set up the Houston Texans with an easy touchdown. He also threw an interception, although those turnovers are a footnote on his huge afternoon.

Indeed, it was a day of records for the Eagles:

NFL on ESPN @ESPNNFL

Nick Foles just set the Eagles franchise record for pass yards with 471, breaking Donovan McNabb's record of 464 (2004). https://t.co/tAN7hH6PSL

NFL Research @NFLResearch

🚨 RECORD ALERT 🚨 Zach Ertz (111) just passed Jason Witten (110 in 2012) for the most receptions in a single season by tight end. #Eagles @Eagles @JasonWitten

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Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson was mostly excellent as well, finishing with 339 passing yards for two scores along with two rushing touchdowns. He also had a costly fumble in the fourth quarter, setting up an Eagles touchdown, but he led the Texans from a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter to put them ahead, 30-29, with just over two minutes remaining.

But Foles struck again, and the Eagles are still alive. They need to beat Washington next Sunday along with either a Minnesota Vikings (8-6-1) loss or two Seattle Seahawks losses, since Seattle (8-6) holds a better conference record than Philly and would earn the playoff berth if the teams finish with identical records.

Meanwhile, Houston (10-5) dropped to third in the overall AFC standings and currently would not have a first-round bye. The Texans are now also only one game ahead of the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC South. A loss next week against the Jacksonville Jaguars paired with a Colts win over the Tennessee Titans would give Indianapolis the AFC South title.

             

Eagles Must Ride Foles' Hot Hand Moving Forward Regardless of Wentz's Health

It's unclear if Carson Wentz will be available again this season, as he's currently sidelined with a stress fracture in his back. Eagles head coach Doug Pederson has publicly declared that Wentz will be his starter if he's healthy.

But how in the world could he bench Foles at this point? How could he remove the reigning Super Bowl MVP, who just led the Eagles to tight wins against postseason contenders in consecutive weeks?

He can't. He just can't.

Aditi Kinkhabwala @AKinkhabwala

Nick Foles. All he does is win.

In the past two weeks, Foles has finished 59-of-80 (73.7 completion percentage) for 741 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. On Sunday, he got the ball back at his own 11-yard line with 2:04 on the clock. Three plays later, Jadeveon Clowney nailed him square in his chest and left him on the ground writhing in pain.

Foles converted the 3rd-and-10 to Alshon Jeffery, but Clowney knocked the wind out of him, forcing him to the sidelines. 

Eliot Shorr-Parks @EliotShorrParks

The throw Foles made on third down where he was drilled in the end zone was one of the biggest plays I’ve ever seen a QB make in person. Season on the line, third down. On the money. Unreal #Eagles

After one errant throw from backup Nate Sudfeld, Foles returned and drove the Eagles into field-goal range, saving their season once again. Just like he saved their season a week ago with a crucial road victory over the Los Angeles Rams. Just like he saved their season a year ago, taking over for an injured Wentz and leading the Eagles to a Super Bowl title. 

With Foles under center, the Eagles offense seems to have a better flow. There's no questioning Wentz's immense ability and upside, but Foles gets the ball out a bit more quickly, often neutralizing the opposing pass rush. The Eagles have also been more balanced, attempting to establish the run game with Foles under center (although the Texans held them to only 57 rushing yards on 22 attempts).

Mike Greenberg @Espngreeny

I don’t want to say the #Eagles offense looks more explosive with Nick Foles. But, it does.

NFL @NFL

SEE YA @NELSONAGHOLOR 👋👋👋 83-yard TD on a dime from @NickFoles!! #FlyEaglesFly 📺: CBS https://t.co/kxSNXf5gQC

Foles also seems to save his best for clutch situations. The Eagles converted nine of 16 third-down attempts and were a perfect 4-for-4 on fourth down. Perhaps more than anything, those conversions were the difference Sunday. 

While the Eagles were seemingly dead in the water two weeks ago, they suddenly look like a scary team again.

mike freeman @mikefreemanNFL

No one wants to play the Ravens. Not sure I’d want to play the Eagles now, either.

Wentz is the future of the Eagles. That shouldn't be in dispute. But Foles is the present. They shouldn't mess with whatever magic is occurring at the moment.

It may be a moot point, as Wentz's outlook for Week 17 and beyond remains unclear. But the Eagles would be wise to be cautious with Wentz regardless and keep rolling with Foles' hot hand. 

             

Texans Aren't Legitimate Super Bowl Contenders

The Texans are a good football team. They aren't a great one. 

Despite Watson's heroics, the Texans came up just short Sunday. And a number of small factors from the game added up to cast serious doubt about Houston's Super Bowl chances this season.

While the Eagles were excellent on third and fourth downs, the Texans converted only three of their 10 third downs and failed on their lone fourth-down attempt. That's been an issue for Houston, which had converted 37.6 percent of its third downs coming into Sunday, 21st in the NFL.

The Eagles also stifled the Texans' run game, holding them to 62 rushing yards on 19 attempts. Houston has run the ball well this season, but the lack of a run game Sunday—coupled with its inability to get the Philly offense off the field—ended with the Eagles holding the ball for 33 minutes and 45 seconds, giving them a major advantage in time of possession. 

Watson nearly mitigated Houston's struggles, coming up with big play after big play.

NFL @NFL

The magic of @DeshaunWatson 🔥🔥🔥 #Texans #HOUvsPHI 📺: CBS https://t.co/FxaXHqc7cW

NFL @NFL

DESHAUN WATSON! The @HoustonTexans take the lead in Philly. #Texans 📺: CBS https://t.co/WbBKsKBpZB

But his defense couldn't seal the deal.

Coming into this game, Houston was struggling with its pass defense, giving up 258.3 yards per game (26th in the NFL). Foles and his cadre of receivers made the Texans pay.

Houston's secondary and linebacker group has to be a concern after Nelson Agholor (five catches for 116 yards and a score), Zach Ertz (12 receptions for 110 yards and two scores), Alshon Jeffery (three catches for 82 yards) and Darren Sproles (three receptions for 76 yards and a touchdown) all went off.

That secondary was already beat up coming into Sunday, and Jonathan Joseph suffered a neck injury against the Eagles, per Zack Rosenblatt of NJ.com. If that unit doesn't get healthier, the Texans are in trouble.

The offense has its own issues to worry about. Lamar Miller missed Sunday's game because of an ankle injury, and if Demaryius Thomas tore his Achilles as feared, his season will be over. Add in an offensive line that has struggled to keep Watson uprightthe Texans gave up four sacks Sunday, bringing them up to an NFL-leading 56 sacks allowed for the yearand the offense has major holes that playmakers like Watson and DeAndre Hopkins may not be able to cover.

It's also fair to question if the Texans have any signature wins this year. They beat the Colts in Week 4, but that was before the Colts—who've won eight of their last nine games—became one of the hottest teams in football.

The next week, the Texans beat the Dallas Cowboys, but the Cowboys had yet to acquire Amari Cooper. They've since reeled off six wins in seven games.

Yes, they beat the Tennessee Titans, but does anybody consider the Titans a legitimate Super Bowl contender?

The Texans are still in the driver's seat for a playoff berth. But their weaknesses and concerns were on full display against the Eagles. Sunday was a reminder that while the Texans are trending in a great direction, they aren't ready to compete for a title yet.

               

What's Next?

The Eagles finish their season next Sunday in Washington at 1 p.m. ET, while the Texans close their regular season at home against the Jaguars at the same date and time..

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