Nick Foles wasn’t all that interested in reliving the 2018 NFC Championship Game this week, which is understandable because he’s currently leading a Chicago Bears offense that can politely be described as sputtering.
On the other hand, maybe the quarterback would rather relive it Monday night in Chicago, where he will be facing a Vikings defense that he tore apart in a 38-7 victory that sent the Philadelphia Eagles into Super Bowl XXII at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Not exactly like old times, of course, a regular-season game between NFC North also-rans. Plus, the Vikings’ defense is a very different beast than the 2017 unit Foles shredded. In short, it’s worse.
The Vikings have won consecutive games after a 1-5 start, including a surprise win over NFC North-leading Green Bay at Lambeau Field, so there has been a lot of talk about riding a “soft” schedule into the playoffs. But let’s be honest; is there such a thing as a soft schedule for a team that started 1-5? Especially a schedule that includes two games against Chicago.
The Bears are a bad matchup for the Vikings on the best of days because Chicago’s defensive line hasn’t had much trouble getting its hands on Kirk Cousins (12 sacks in three games) or containing Dalvin Cook (34 carries for 86 yards in three games). That fact alone has dictated the past four games, all Chicago wins.
Now there is Foles, who on Jan. 21, 2018, completed 26 of 33 passes for three touchdowns without a turnover against what was then the NFL’s top-ranked defense with the Super Bowl on the line. Asked this week what he remembers most about that game, Foles said, “The energy in the stadium with my teammates. It had nothing to do with any of the plays or anything. I just remember the energy.”
That’s a diplomatic answer from a guy who needs to play the Vikings on Monday, but one gets the impression he was telling the truth. After the Vikings struck first on a 25-yard scoring pass from Case Keenum to Kyle Rudolph, the Eagles took over and one could almost see destiny switch sidelines at Lincoln Financial Field.
Foles was an unlikely hero — he took over for injured Carson Wentz in Week 15 of the regular season — and is growing more unlikely by the day. A growing sect of Eagles fans might pine for the Super Bowl LII MVP, but even the Bears (5-4) aren’t sold on him, if only because he isn’t nimble enough to make up for the deficits of an offensive line devastated by injuries this season.
He took over for Mitchell Trubisky after leading a fourth-quarter comeback in Atlanta in Week 3, but they’re 2-4 since then, heading in the wrong direction as Minnesota trends upward. Only Washington and Texas have worse rushing games than the Bears, averaging 82.3 yards a game with two (!) total touchdowns.
If there is hope in Minnesota, there is gathering gloom in Chicago. Vikings fans see Monday’s game as a springboard to better things; Bears fans consider it a potential breaking point. Asked about it this week, Foles said, “We’re going to move forward.”
“We’re aware of all those things,” he added, “but you can’t dwell on them because all of the sudden you start paralyzing yourself.”
This isn’t a soft game for Minnesota, and if it isn’t the NFC Championship, the stakes are high. Someone’s season is going to break on Monday, and either way it will be fitting for Minnesota. They’ll either be dropped by the guy who knocked them out in 2018, or return the favor while he’s at the helm of a bitter rival.
“It was just an explosion on the field and it was a good night,” remembered Foles, looking back.
Maybe it will be a good night for the Vikings this time. Then they could truly look forward.