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By Joseph Santoliquito
Tampa, FL (CBS) — A prancing Andy Reid erupted, jiggling in the silky, black form-fitting shirt, double-pumping his fist and hugging everyone down the Eagles’ sideline as if they had just won the Super Bowl. That’s what winning can do for you when you haven’t won in 70 days. In that span, a President had been elected, the Phillies won more games than the Eagles, a freshman won the Heisman Trophy, and the Eagles may have found their quarterback of the future.
You’ll no doubt see it over, and over, and over again. But it’s something you’ll want see a hundred times. Nick Foles rolling right and hitting Jeremy Maclin in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown on the final play.
Just when it seemed all was lost, it was the rookie quarterback that directed the Eagles to a dramatic 23-21 victory over the playoff-minded Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, snapping the Eagles’ eight-game losing streak.
Foles completed 32 of 51 yards for 381 yards and two touchdowns, including the one-yard game-winning score to the sliding Maclin.
The Eagles improved to 4-9, winning for the first time since September 30, when they downed the New York Giants, 19-17.
With 2:44 left, Foles began the winning drive at the Eagles’ 36. The biggest play was a 22-yard completion on fourth-and-five at the Tampa Bay 23, when Foles looked off the safety and hit Jason Avant in the final seconds, putting the Eagles at the Bucs’ one-yard line.
Foles, who was sacked six times and absorbed 13 hits, completed five of 11 passes on the 13-play drive. It was Foles, Reid admitted, who called the game-winning play.
“It’s really big when the coaches trust you,” Foles said. “Game-winning drives are special. I like a movement play in that situation, because it changes the throwing lanes. If you’re in the pocket, a guy can undercut it, whereas if you’re on the run, there’s no undercut. It just felt good. It was the first play that came to my head. I wanted to be smart with the ball. I wanted to be aggressive. The guys did a great job up front, and it was exciting, too, hearing all of the Eagles’ fans there in the end.”
The Eagles trailed 21-10 with 7:21 left to play. Foles came back to lead the Eagles on consecutive scoring drives. His 11-yard TD connection to Clay Harbor in the back of the end zone pulled the Eagles to within 21-16 with 3:55 left.
That set up the winning score for Foles, who displayed a poise that belies a rookie. He overcame some tense moments, executed two-straight scoring drives and converted 10 of 13 third downs for 167 yards.
“Nick suggested that last play, and he had faith in me,” said Maclin, who caught nine passes for 104 yards.
“I was proud of our players for fighting their tails off,” Reid said. “To be able to sneak it out like that, it’s quite a feat. Nick rallied the crew in there, and he was able to rally everyone around him. Nick did well. He made good decisions and some big plays. This is a step forward [for Foles], that’s for sure.
“Nick had to battle. It wasn’t a smooth event, we had our ups and downs. It looked like he made people around him better, and himself, he got better. He wanted that last play. He called it, he wanted that play. It’s a great thing when your quarterback’s in tune like that.”
One other unforgettable moment of Sunday’s victory was Avant’s one-handed, second-quarter circus catch.
If there is anything that may resonate from this dismal 2012 Eagles’ season, it could be the glint of a white outstretched glove thrust into the air before the ball was cupped by the falling Avant at the Bucs’ 20—followed by the incredulous look in the background of the Tampa Bay sideline.
“That was a heck of a catch there, that was phenomenal,” Reid said.
Foles’ play overcame myriad mistakes that could have killed the Eagles. Going offside, for one, on the final play of the half forced Alex Henery from kicking a makeable 53-yard field goal to a 58-yard attempt that bounced off the left upright.
Then, early in the third quarter, Damaris Johnson seemed afraid to step forward and catch a punt. The ball touched his fingertips and the muff was recovered by Tampa Bay at the Eagles’ five-yard line. The turnover resulted in the Bucs’ first score, a one-yard floater from Josh Freeman to Mike Williams, who warded off Nnamdi Asomugha to make the catch.
The Bucs scored 21 unanswered points in response to the Eagles’ 10-0 halftime lead. The Eagles played their best half of football against a team fighting for a playoff berth.
It begged the question: Where was that team all year? They played an inspired, passionate brand of football Eagles’ fans have been deprived of.
It marked the first time all season the Eagles shutout an opponent at halftime. Corners Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Asomugha played their best half of football—it was best the Rodgers-Cromartie played all season.
The defense, finally away from the clutches of the Wide-9 gimmick, actually looked good, forcing Freeman into 5-for-16 passing for 61 yards in the first half.
Linebacker Mychal Kendricks, playing in his natural position at weak side, and safety Colt Anderson (who had six tackles in his third career start) were flying all over the field. Curtis Marsh filled in nicely for Asomugha, after he left the game with a neck injury.
“You go two months without winning a game in Philadelphia, that’s a tough thing,” Reid said. “I’m proud of these guys staying true to themselves and battling like crazy.”
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.