PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles have come a long way since the previous time they played Dallas.
Now, they have to tie or beat the Cowboys to complete a worst-to-first journey.
The NFC East title is at stake when the Eagles (9-6) play at Dallas (8-7) next Sunday night. These aren’t the same teams who met in Philadelphia in October.
Both teams were 3-3 when the Cowboys came to town and became the first defense to shut down Chip Kelly’s high-flying offense. Foles, making his second start for an injured Michael Vick, struggled before suffering a concussion in a 17-3 loss.
The Eagles followed that up with a 15-7 loss to the New York Giants. But Foles returned the next game, tied an NFL record with seven touchdown passes in a win at Oakland and has led Philadelphia to a 6-1 record in his past seven starts. He has 25 TD passes and only two interceptions.
“I think his confidence is a byproduct of his experience,” Kelly said Monday. “You have to be able to learn from your mistakes, and I think that’s one thing that Nick does a really, really good job of is he’s very analytical of himself.
“He’s very critical of himself in a really constructive way. I think that shows up in terms of the little teeny details that I think separate from being good and going to great is he’s willing to work at that, and that’s something that as a coach you really love having a guy that can take that in a constructive manner.”
The Eagles are heading to Dallas off an impressive 54-11 win over NFC North-leading Chicago in a game that didn’t matter much in the standings for Philadelphia.
The Bears (8-7) could’ve clinched a division title and a No. 3 seed in the conference with a victory over the Eagles, but were thoroughly dominated from start to finish.
Kelly chose to play his starters instead of resting them, and they delivered their best all-around performance of the season.
The offense racked up 514 total yards while the defense limited Jay Cutler and his dynamic receiving duo of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery to 196 yards passing.
“We have evolved quite a bit from that point on,” defensive coordinator Billy Davis said of his defense’s progression since the first game against Dallas.
“We have evolved every week. I think the guys really understand the (defense) now. The guys are executing at a high level right now.”
The Eagles might face a team missing its starting quarterback. Tony Romo injured his back rallying the Cowboys to a season-saving win at Washington.
He hasn’t been ruled out for Sunday’s game, but it’s possible backup Kyle Orton could make his first start since the final game of the 2011 season.
That’s not necessarily great news for Philadelphia. Romo is 0-3 in regular-season finales with the NFC East title on the line. The Cowboys lost to the Redskins in 2012, the Giants in 2011 and Eagles in 2008.
The Eagles already were three-point favorites before news of Romo’s injury. The line jumped to seven points in some sports books before it was taken off the board Monday night.
“I’m always on what you did last, and what he did last was pretty special,” Kelly said, referring to Romo’s game-winning TD pass to DeMarco Murray against the Redskins.
“I think he’s a talented a quarterback as there is in this league. Any time with that position, sometimes I think you get probably too much credit and too much blame. But he’s one of the really, really, really good quarterbacks we’ve seen, and I said that the first time we played him. If you’re a fan of just quarterback play, he’s pretty special.”
There won’t be a letdown for the Eagles if Romo doesn’t play. They learned a lesson in a 48-30 loss at Minnesota in Week 15.
The Vikings were missing Adrian Peterson, his backup, their top three cornerbacks and started backup quarterback Matt Cassel.
Yet the Eagles came out flat and never recovered.
That’s why Kelly never considered resting his starters against the Bears. They wanted to erase the memory of the loss to Minnesota and be at their best when they face Dallas for the division crown.