- Phil Sheridan, ESPN Staff Writer
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HOUSTON -- Nick Foles was in the locker room, getting X-rayed. Mark Sanchez, the onetime star quarterback for the New York Jets, was playing quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles for the first time against the Houston Texans.
For Sanchez's first play, Eagles coach Chip Kelly called for a deep throw to wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. Sanchez dropped back, stepped into the throw and caught Maclin in stride for a 52-yard gain.
Eagles left tackle Jason Peters turned around, expecting to high five Foles. There was Sanchez.
"I didn't even know Foles was out," Peters said. "I saw the bomb to Maclin and I turned around to congratulate him and it was Sanchez. I didn't even know the guy was out. For Sanchez to come in for Foles was big-time."
That's how this season is going for the Eagles. On Sunday, they lost Foles to an injury in his shoulder area and inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans went down in the fourth quarter with what was reportedly an injury to his Achilles tendon. (UPDATE: Foles has a broken collarbone.) Center Jason Kelce returned after missing four games, only to have left guard Todd Herremans (who was playing with a torn biceps) leave with an ankle injury.
In spite of all that, the Eagles beat the Texans, 31-21, to move into first place in the NFC East.
"We're winning," Peters said. "That means we've got depth. Bench has got to step in. When one goes down, the next goes up. You just keep rolling when someone goes down."
It doesn't matter whether it's a guard or the quarterback. The way Kelly runs his practices, every player gets a fair amount of practice time. So even though he had not appeared in a game since the preseason, Sanchez was comfortable stepping into a game against the Texans' ferocious pass rush and was familiar with his receivers.
"I was expecting maybe a handoff or a quick screen," Sanchez said. "Ease my way in, but you know Coach Kelly. I said it to [TV personality] Tony Siragusa. If he was a basketball coach, he would bring you off the bench shooting 3-pointers. That's the way it goes. You have to be ready."
Last season, Foles hit his stride after taking over the starting quarterback job from Michael Vick. In the second half of the season, Foles led the Eagles to a 7-1 record. They finished 10-6 and won the NFC East title.
This year, in spite of injuries and a rash of turnovers, the Eagles are 6-2 at the halfway point. If they can get by without Foles and Ryans, the latter likely for the rest of the season, they are in position to have a really special season.
Casey Matthews stepped in for Ryans. Now that Mychal Kendricks is back from his calf injury, Matthews and Emmanuel Acho will be able to fill in for Ryans.
Sanchez, who has a few of those on his resume, turns out to be just the right guy to back up Foles. He was comfortable being the No. 2 guy, but prepared to step in.
"It's been a while," Sanchez said. "It all comes back quickly. I don't want to use the phrase 'it's like riding a bike.' I wish it was that easy, and that defense didn't make it that easy. It just felt good to get back out there. It felt good to make some calls, to scramble a little bit, get hit a little bit. All that stuff was really fun."
Sanchez opened with the 52-yard throw to Maclin. He finished with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Maclin that capped a 15-play, eight-minute, clock-devouring drive. In between, Sanchez threw a couple of interceptions. There is room for improvement, but he did enough for the Eagles to win.
Come to think of it, no wonder Peters couldn't tell that Foles was gone. That's how he's been winning all season long.