Foles gives Kelly solution to QB dilemma

Nick Foles had a chance to stake a claim to the starting quarterback job long term, but he wasted that opportunity Sunday against the Cowboys. Howard Smith/USA TODAY Sports

PHILADELPHIA -- This was exactly the kind of play the Philadelphia Eagles just couldn’t afford from their quarterback anymore: in the red zone, receivers covered, holding on to the ball, taking an unnecessary sack, leaving the game with an apparent concussion.

It was the kind of play that earned Michael Vick criticism for failing to adapt his game and a reputation for being injury-prone. It was the kind of play that Nick Foles was not supposed to make, but there he was. Foles failed to throw the ball away, creating an unnecessary pileup with Cowboys George Selvie and Jarius Wynn. Foles was knocked out of the game on the play.

And so, to the Vick hamstring watch the Eagles now add the Foles concussion vigil. It is possible that one, or both, or neither will be ready to practice this week and play Sunday against the New York Giants.

Instead of a quarterback controversy, Chip Kelly is on the brink of a quarterback calamity.

“I’m hoping we can get them all back on Tuesday,” Kelly said. “But I won’t know until they get into the training room tomorrow.”

Kelly said Vick is “better than he was. Obviously, that is an injury that takes time. But I’m hopeful that Michael will be back and we’ll have to make a decision where we are based on his health and Nick’s health.”

Asked if Vick is the No. 1 quarterback if everyone is healthy, Kelly demurred.

“I can’t answer that question because I don’t know if he can go,” Kelly said. “I can say, yeah, he’s my starter and then find out he can’t play.”

Kelly has been cagey on this topic all along. He hasn’t said anything that can be used against him in the court of public opinion. It appeared he left the door open for Foles to retain the starting job based on performance, but Kelly never declared Foles ahead of Vick in that area.

When Foles played superbly against Tampa Bay last Sunday, the feeling was that the job was his to lose. On Sunday, against the NFC East rival Cowboys, that’s exactly what he did.

Long before the poor decision-making that led to his injury, Foles was erratic and inaccurate and lacked authority on his throws. He took turns overthrowing and underthrowing sometimes wide-open receivers.

He had a few stretches like that last year, but usually for only a series or two. It was hard to gauge what was Foles and what was his supporting cast. The offensive line was in ruins due to injury, and he didn’t have LeSean McCoy or DeSean Jackson for much of his six-game run as the starter.

He had all his weapons Sunday. This time, it was hard to gauge what was Foles and what was Kelly. For the first time in his rookie season as an NFL head coach, Kelly’s game plan appeared dead on arrival. He seemed determined to spring Bryce Brown on the Cowboys, and they were not impressed. They shut down Brown and McCoy in the run game and pressured Foles enough to disrupt the passing game.

“That’s about as bad as it gets for an offense,” center Jason Kelce said.

The Eagles were scoreless until Alex Henery’s field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter. That’s the first time a Kelly-coached team had been shut out through the first half since 2009, his first year at Oregon. It happened to Kelly twice that year, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

His Eagles were averaging 28 points per game. They had the No. 1 rushing offense in the NFL. They were facing a Dallas defense that was vulnerable even before it lost DeMarcus Ware to injury. So Sunday’s across-the-board failure was shocking.

“I don’t have an answer for it,” Kelly said. “I think it’s everybody on the offensive side of the ball. I don’t think we blocked very well. I don’t think we caught the ball very well. I don’t think we got off routes very well. It was 11 guys on offense. It was all of us, me calling the plays, everybody. It’s not just one guy.”

In the NFL, though, so much of it is one guy. That guy is the quarterback, and Foles was not a good one in the biggest game of his brief NFL career: first place in the division on the line with an eight-game, now nine-game, home losing streak lodged in their throats.

The feeling was that it made little sense for Kelly to go back to the 33-year-old, injury-prone Vick. It was more important to see exactly what he had in Foles.

That’s the biggest thing that happened Sunday. It isn’t fair to expect even a star quarterback to play every game perfectly. But Foles had an opportunity to show he was the better quarterback for Kelly’s team right now. All he had to do was play two good games in a row. He couldn’t do that.

So now what?

If Vick is healthy, Kelly has to go with him. If it would have been a delicate sales job to go with Foles after a couple of wins, it is impossible to sell him to a frustrated locker room after a brutal performance like that.

Foles had the starting job in his hands. Unlike the football on his final play of this game, he wasn’t able to hold on to it very long at all.