Nick Foles' 'crazy journey' from near retirement to NFC title game

PHILADELPHIA -- Quarterback Nick Foles opened up Wednesday about his near retirement from the NFL and the winding path that led him and the Philadelphia Eagles to Sunday's NFC Championship Game matchup with the Minnesota Vikings (6:40 p.m. ET, Fox).

"It's been a crazy journey," said Foles.

His strong flirtation with retirement came in the summer of 2016, when he was 26 years old. He had just been released by the Los Angeles Rams, as requested, following a bumpy year in St. Louis, where he went 4-7 as a starter, threw seven touchdowns to 10 interceptions and was benched in favor of Case Keenum -- his counterpart this weekend. It wasn't that long ago that he had been riding high in Philly. But coach Chip Kelly didn't see him as the answer despite a 27-touchdown, two-interception performance in 2013, and dealt him to the Rams after the 214 season for Sam Bradford.

Foles' chance to cement himself as the Rams' starter slipped through his hands, and he found himself a free agent for the first time in his career.

"The big thing is you've got to know where your heart is, why you're doing it," Foles said. "I think that's what you have to ask yourself whenever you play this game. I know I did several years ago when I had to take a step back and say, 'Am I doing this for the right reason?' Because if I can't do it with my heart, I can't do it.

"I had to take a week off when I was a free agent just to think about it, and it was the best thing that ever happened because I think people are fearful of feeling that way because they feel like they're the only ones that feel that way, but everyone, we're professional athletes and we have moments where we step back and think and assess everything in our life."

Foles says prayer and discussions with his wife led him to the decision to keep playing. He decided to join the coach who drafted him, Andy Reid, in Kansas City. He spent a year there before returning to the Eagles in a backup role. Carson Wentz went down with a torn ACL in Week 14, and now Foles is out in front of a team on the doorstep of the Super Bowl.

"In these moments where we're playing for this championship game, you do reflect," he said. "A few days ago, I sat there with my wife and we just talked about how blessed we are to be in this moment. ... It's an honor and blessing to be in this moment and play in this game."

It's an even longer shot that he would be facing Keenum. Foles and Keenum were acquired by the Rams on the same day, March 10, 2015, and spent a rocky year together under coach Jeff Fisher.

"It's pretty wild, absolutely. I mean, we were on the same team not too many years ago,” Foles said. “Case's success and the way he plays doesn't surprise me because him and I were together and we prepared together and we were around each other every day, but I think the big message there is no matter what happens, you just have to keep believing in yourself, keep working hard and never give up."

With Foles at the helm instead of Wentz, the Eagles became the first No. 1 seed in NFL history to be underdogs in their opening playoff game -- a 15-10 Philly win over the Atlanta Falcons. They are three-point underdogs to the Vikings as well. But it appears he has captured the trust of his teammates, who have seen him have success in this league and know what he's been through.

"People don't realize, this game is stressful, man," said receiver Torrey Smith. "There's so many things that could happen that guys deal with, whether it's injury, performance, politics, whatever it may be, it puts a lot of stress on guys. For him, man, he came in, great spirits; he's been a great leader in this locker room. He was here before.

"I walk by that hallway in there every day and you see this [picture of] No. 9 with these locks hanging out the back of his helmet on that Pro Bowl wall, and that's Foles. It's the same guy that threw seven touchdowns in one game -- that's Nick Foles. So we're lucky we had him as a backup. We believe in him."