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Saturday, December 14, 2013
Eagles, Bears survive on backup plan

By Ashley Fox
ESPN.com

We've done nothing except win five in a row.

That was Philadelphia offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur's take after the Eagles won the "snow bowl" against Detroit on Sunday. It was a huge win, a gut-check game in adverse conditions against a desperate opponent that, coupled with Dallas' loss on Monday night, moved the Eagles into first place in the NFC East with three games to go.

Nick Foles
After supplanting Michael Vick as starter, Nick Foles has propelled Philadelphia into first place in the NFC East.

But much like Chicago in the NFC North, Philadelphia has done far more than "nothing" this season. The Bears and Eagles have done the nearly impossible: Get into playoff contention despite using multiple starters at the most important position in football.

Look at the standings.

Of the 16 teams with a legitimate shot at making it to the postseason, only the Bears and Eagles have been forced to start a backup quarterback. In the AFC, New England, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Denver, Kansas City, Baltimore and Miami have had the luxury of having the same starter under center in each game this season. In the NFC, Seattle, New Orleans, Carolina, San Francisco, Arizona, Dallas and Detroit have, too.

Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly pivoted from Michael Vick to Nick Foles after Foles played lights-out in relief of the injured Vick earlier this season. Kelly opted to stick with the hot hand once Vick was healthy, and given Foles' production -- he has thrown 17 touchdowns with only one interception for a league-best 120.0 passer rating during his 6-1 stretch as a starter -- it has proved to be the right call.

Chicago coach Marc Trestman is going back to Jay Cutler this weekend against Cleveland despite Josh McCown's playing well in five starts. McCown, 34, has thrown for 1,543 yards, with 11 touchdowns -- including four against the Cowboys on Monday night -- and just one interception. For the season, he's thrown for 1,890 yards with 13 TDs and just the one pick for a 109.8 passer rating.

That the Eagles and Bears are in playoff contention is a testament to the coaching jobs by Kelly and Trestman. In their first seasons as NFL head coaches, Kelly and Trestman have excelled at preparing their backup quarterbacks and tailoring their game plans to what each does well.

But more important, it is a credit to all of the quarterbacks involved. Without everyone on the same page, helping each other for the common good of the team, neither team would have had success.

In Philadelphia, Vick has supported Foles. The two battled it out through offseason workouts and training camp before Kelly named Vick the starter midway through the preseason. Foles was understandably disappointed, but he never sulked. He didn't pout. He kept working and once he had an opportunity, he took full advantage of it.

When it became obvious that Foles deserved to remain the starter, Vick likewise didn't complain; he saw what Foles was doing. Vick wants to play, but he settled into a backup role and continues to help Foles during games, pointing out things he sees from opposing defenses.

"It's a very healthy [quarterback] room," Shurmur said. "They do a good job. You try to get the starter ready, but the guys that are backups are constantly trying to improve because they know they're one play away from being in there.

"I think Nick took that approach. He was very professional about it, and at least to this point he's gotten his opportunity, and he's made the best of it. … There's a lot more out there, though. His mindset and the way he handles things has made it so we can keep going, because he doesn't get too high or too low. He approaches his work on a daily basis, and we hope he continues that way."

McCown and Cutler have also been steady. Each has understood his role. Trestman has been consistent that once Cutler recovered from the high ankle sprain he suffered in the second quarter of a loss to Detroit on Nov. 10, Cutler would resume his role as the Bears' starter. That has always been the plan. The quarterbacks knew it, as did the rest of the team.

Josh McCown
The Bears' offense didn't miss a beat with Josh McCown at the helm, including a 45-point output Monday night against Dallas.

McCown understood that. He knows his role. He is the backup. Cutler is the starter. Part of McCown's job is to make sure that Cutler is prepared and ready. McCown has embraced that, because, as he has said, it is for the greater good of the team. He has put the team first.

In both cities, there could have been dissension. McCown could have lobbied to keep playing. Vick could have complained about losing his starting job because of injury (even though he benefited in 2010, winning the Eagles' starting job after playing well in relief of the concussed Kevin Kolb).

But there has been no dissension. There has been no complaining, no bickering. That is a credit to all of the quarterbacks involved. Each has played a role. Each has been professional. And as a result, the Bears and Eagles, who will meet at Lincoln Financial Field on Dec. 22, are pushing toward the playoffs.