JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- In the last five seasons, the average margin of victory in the NFL is 11.4 points per game. With most games coming down to those precious final possessions, fourth-quarter performance is critical to the bottom line.
Especially when it comes to quarterback play.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have struggled there for ... seemingly since the days of Mark Brunell. Even in the team’s surprising 2017 season, which included a run to the AFC Championship Game, the Jaguars didn't get great fourth-quarter quarterback play.
It should be markedly better with Nick Foles. He has been one of the league’s better quarterbacks in the final 15 minutes of games in the past two seasons. His quarterback rating might not be overly impressive (85.2), but he has completed nearly 70 percent of his passes, has thrown only three interceptions, and -- most importantly -- has a 9-2 record that includes a Super Bowl victory.
Foles had a pretty good supporting cast around him with Philadelphia the past two seasons, so that certainly helped, but the Jaguars believe he can be just as effective within this offense and that should result in more victories and -- they hope -- a return to the playoffs.
“I couldn’t be happier [with what he’s seen out of Foles in training camp],” coach Doug Marrone said. “He is still going to have to go out there and perform. We understand that. He knows what he wants to do. He knows how to deliver the football. We have a coordinator, John [DeFilippo] that has been with him as a position coach, so he knows them. Hopefully between the two of them, they can put our team in the best position to win games.”
That is an area in which Blake Bortles often struggled. No player has more fourth-quarter interceptions since 2014 (including postseason) than Bortles’s 31 -- a number that is nearly half of his overall total of 75 -- and that includes 12 interceptions to only five TD passes the last two seasons.
Foles has thrown only four TD passes in the fourth quarter since 2017, but he also has only three interceptions and a 68.1 completion percentage. Bortles has five TD passes and his completion percentage is 55.1 percent -- to go along with a 15-16 record.
One of those victories came despite Bortles throwing a pair of interceptions in the final two minutes of a game against the Los Angeles Chargers in 2017. The Jaguars were still able to tie the game on a Josh Lambo 34-yard field goal with three seconds remaining in regulation and win it in overtime after cornerback A.J. Bouye’s interception return set up Lambo with a 30-yard field goal attempt.
Foles’ approach to his late-game performance is to essentially ignore everything except what is happening in the huddle.
“When I’m in that huddle, that’s our sanctuary, and I want to focus on that moment in time,” Foles said. “I don’t need to add pressure like, ‘There’s eight minutes left in this game, we have to score.’ You know? Then you’re putting more pressure on yourself. The game is already a high [pressure and] a strong situation, so the big thing is just stepping into the huddle and just realizing, ‘Hey, just stay in this moment. This is the play call, this is what we’re thinking, let’s go. Stay right here.’
“I do that for myself as much for the guys in the huddle just because it helps. It helps getting rid of all the distractions, the clock, the score. Let’s just worry about this play so we can see what the defense is doing and execute, and that’s the way I focus on finishing. I don’t even want to think about finishing because it’s ingrained into who we are.”
Foles said that was what his father told him throughout his youth, high school and college career and he finally embraced it after he took over for the injured Carson Wentz late in the 2017 season and led the Eagles to the Super Bowl.
“There was so much pressure on the situation that I didn’t want to have to think about finishing a game. I just wanted to play with my teammates, my brothers,” Foles said. “What I’ve learned, and my dad always said growing up, ‘Don’t ever look at the clock, don’t ever look at the score, just play. Play as hard as you can and play to the best of your ability, and that’s good enough.’
“It took me about 28 years to actually figure that out, but Dad was right, and I try to teach that to other guys because the ultimate goal is to alleviate anxiety so we can play with the best of our abilities out there.”
The Jaguars are counting on much less late-game anxiety with Foles.