Foles follows Hostetler’s path from backup to Super Bowl

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Soon after Carson Wentz went down with a season-ending knee injury and Philadelphia’s Super Bowl hopes were placed on backup Nick Foles‘ right arm, Jeff Hostetler’s phone lit up.

Out of all the quarterbacks who have gone from holding clipboards to begin the season to Super Bowl starter to end it, Hostetler’s path might have been most similar to Foles’ journey. It provides some hope to the Eagles heading into Sunday’s title game against five-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

“When it happened, all of a sudden my phone starts ringing off the hook,” Hostetler said. “When you really start to look at it, this is probably out of all the times it’s happened since I played, this may be the most similar when you get to all the nuts and bolts about it.”

Hostetler had started just two games in almost seven full seasons for the Giants when Phil Simms injured his foot in Week 14. After starting that season with 10 straight wins, the Giants lost three out of four and were mostly written off as a contender when Simms got hurt.

Road to Super Bowl LII: Stream, start time, highlights and more

There was a similar mood in Philadelphia when MVP contender Wentz got hurt in Los Angeles in a win that improved the Eagles to 11-2, but left them with a backup quarterback running the show.

“Everyone had jumped off the bandwagon,” Hostetler recalled. “We were completely shot as a team. That was the outside looking in. Inside where we were at, we just rallied the wagons. It was us versus the world. We just rallied around each other and it showed. I had a team similar to Philly. They’ve rallied around each other and nobody gives them a chance. When nobody gives you a chance and you’re a close-knit team that has been through adversity, look out, you can be dangerous.”

Hostetler said he had gained confidence by being thrown in late in a win against Dallas early in the season, and then leading a comeback against the Cardinals after Simms got injured in Game 6.

But by the time he stepped in for Simms in December, Hostetler had thrown 93 passes since entering the NFL in 1984. Hostetler managed to lead the Giants to two wins to end the regular season, a lopsided playoff opener over Chicago, then upsets over two-time defending champion San Francisco in the NFC title game (15-13 on five field goals) and Buffalo (20-19)in the Super Bowl.

“There were lots of things that were said, lots of negative things,” Hostetler said. “That fed me because none of those guys had seen me play. I never had the opportunity. It wasn’t like I had gone out there and failed and that’s why I was a backup. I was a backup because we didn’t have free agency and I was behind a guy who was playing really well who hadn’t gotten hurt.”

Foles is the 14th quarterback to start the Super Bowl after not holding that role for the season opener, including Brady (2016) and Ben Roethlisberger (2010), who were suspended to start those seasons. The others fall into a few categories.

There were those who seized the job early in the season such as Jake Delhomme did for Carolina when he replaced Rodney Peete at halftime of the 2003 season opener; Brady when he stepped in for an injured Drew Bledsoe in Week 3 in 2001; and Joe Kapp, who replaced Gary Cuozzo for Minnesota in the second game in 1969.

Then there were teams looking for a midseason jolt that turned into Super Bowl wins. Roger Staubach shared time with Craig Morton in 1971 before taking over for good midway through the year to launch a Hall of Fame career with his first Super Bowl win. Three years later, Terry Bradshaw began the season on the bench behind Joe Gilliam before taking over as starter in Week 7, then winning the first of four Super Bowl titles. Trent Dilfer then stepped in for Tony Banks midway through the 2000 season for Baltimore, lost his first start and then won 11 in a row behind a dominant defense.

There were three other cases of injuries leading to changes before the stretch run, with Vince Ferragamo replacing Pat Haden for the Rams in 1979; Jim Plunkett stepping in for Dan Pastorini the following year in Oakland; and Colin Kaepernick doing the same in San Francisco after Alex Smith had a concussion in 2012.

But of all those quarterbacks, only Hostetler, Foles and Washington’s Doug Williams made it to the Super Bowl with as few as two regular-season starts that season. Williams made his starts early in the year before stepping in for Jay Schroeder in the season finale and sparking a comeback victory over Minnesota, leading to coach Joe Gibbs’ decision to make a change for the playoffs.

“I never was a backup, so the mentality was a lot different,” said Williams, who started 67 games for Tampa Bay before heading to the USFL. “Even coming to Washington as the backup, I had a backup position with a starter’s mentality. That’s how I always looked at it.”

Williams played that way in the postseason. He helped overcome a 14-point deficit in wind chill of minus-20 degrees in Chicago against the mighty Bears defense in the division round before throwing two TDs to beat the Vikings again at home in the NFC title game.

Williams then put together an historic performance in the Super Bowl, leading five TD drives in 18 plays in the second quarter of a 42-10 win over Denver in San Diego. Williams threw for 340 yards and four TD passes on a gimpy knee to win MVP honors.

“The biggest thing was going to Chicago and being able to come back in that weather to beat the Bears,” Williams said. “That was bigger than coming back from 10 points in 80 degree weather.”

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Nick Foles goes from backup to championship game hero

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) Nick Foles stood tall in the pocket, ignored the pressure and made one big throw after another.

On the biggest stage of his life, Foles silenced the critics who thought the Eagles couldn’t get to the Super Bowl without MVP candidate Carson Wentz. Foles threw for 352 and three touchdowns to lead Philadelphia to a convincing 38-7 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC championship game Sunday.

Now he’s headed to Minnesota to face Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.

Road to Super Bowl LII: Stream, start time, highlights and more

While Wentz watched from the sideline, using a cane to walk following surgery to repair his torn left ACL, Foles picked apart the NFL’s top-ranked defense. He tossed a perfect 53-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery with the pocket collapsing around him to give Philadelphia a 21-7 lead in the second quarter.

Foles then directed a 60-yard drive in 29 seconds to set up a field goal before halftime. He fired a 49-yard TD pass to Torrey Smith off a flea flicker to start the second half and tossed a 5-yard TD to Jeffery early in the fourth to make it 38-7.

Foles was at his best on third downs, completing 10 of 11 for 159 yards and two TDs. The Eagles had been 0 for 13 on third-and-10 or longer after Wentz went down. On Sunday, Foles threw an 11-yard pass to Zach Ertz on third-and-10 on the Eagles’ first touchdown drive. His long TD pass to Jeffery came on third-and-10.

The Eagles (15-3) have been underdogs in both playoffs games, mostly because Foles is the quarterback. They were the first No. 1 seed not favored in a divisional round game, a 15-10 win over the Falcons. The Vikings (14-4) were 3-point favorites despite also being led by a backup quarterback – Case Keenum, Foles’ good friend and former teammate.

Foles put on a passing clinic, completing 78.8 percent of his passes (26 of 33). Not bad for a guy who contemplated retirement before the 2016 season.

A third-round pick by former Eagles coach Andy Reid in 2012, Foles had tremendous success as a starter under Chip Kelly his sophomore season. He threw 29 TDs and only two picks in 11 starts, including playoffs in 2013. Foles posted a passer rating of 119.2, third-highest in league history. He tied an NFL record with seven TD passes in a game at Oakland in November 2013 won an offensive MVP award at a Pro Bowl.

But Foles was traded to St. Louis for Sam Bradford in March 2015. He lost his starting job to Keenum and asked for his release after Jared Goff was drafted No. 1 overall. Foles considered hanging up his cleats before Reid persuaded him to go to Kansas City to be Alex Smith‘s backup.

After one season with the Chiefs, Foles returned to Philly to provide insurance behind Wentz.

He’ll become a folk hero if he can deliver the franchise’s first ever Super Bowl title.

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Titans rally from 21-3 hole, beat Chiefs 22-21 in playoffs

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) Marcus Mariota led Tennessee to three second-half touchdowns, incredibly throwing one of his TD passes to himself , and the Titans rallied from a 21-3 deficit to beat the Kansas City Chiefs 22-21 on Saturday for their first playoff win in 14 years.

Mariota threw for 205 yards and two scores, including the 22-yard go-ahead strike to Eric Decker with just over six minutes left that ushered the Titans into the divisional round of the playoffs.

“Special, special,” Mariota said. “I’m a part of a great team. I’m a part of a group of guys that really just believe in each other. And, it’s something special and I’m look forward to playing next week.”

They’ll head to New England or Pittsburgh next week.

Derrick Henry had a career-high 156 yards rushing and another score for Tennessee (10-7), while a defense that was fileted by Alex Smith and the Chiefs (10-7) during the first half pitched a shutout in the second half – dooming the Kansas City franchise to another humiliating postseason defeat.

The Chiefs haven’t won a home playoff game since January 1994.

Smith threw for 264 yards and two touchdowns , but most of that came before halftime. He couldn’t get on track in the second half and misfired on fourth-and-9 at the Titans 44 with just over two minutes to go, denying the Chiefs a chance for Harrison Butker to kick a go-ahead field goal.

The letdown was made even more depressing when Henry appeared to fumble as Tennessee tried to run out the clock.

The Chiefs’ Derrick Johnson picked up the ball and returned it for a touchdown with 1:47 to go, but a video replay showed that Henry was down and the call was overturned.

Tennessee succeeded in running out the clock from there.

In the first half, the Chiefs looked every bit the team that had won four straight in convincing fashion, and the Titans looked every bit the team that backed into the playoffs.

Kareem Hunt, the league’s top rusher this season , plunged in from 1 yard for a 7-0 lead, and Smith hit Travis Kelce with a 13-yard touchdown pass a few minutes later. Smith added another touchdown toss to Demarcus Robinson on the final offensive play for a 21-3 lead at the break.

Smith was 19 of 23 for 231 yards in the half. Mariota was 7 of 13 for 81 yards and a pick.

The Titans’ young quarterback got on track in the second half, though, converting a couple of key third downs – one of them with his legs – in marching his team 91 yards. He capped it by throwing the first TD pass to himself, the first player to accomplish the feat in playoff history.

The previous player to do it in any game was the Vikings’ Brad Johnson during the 1997 season.

“Right place, right time,” Mariota said with a smile.

Tennessee nearly squandered its momentum when Adoree Jackson fumbled a punt, but the Chiefs were unable to pick up a first down and Butker knocked a 48-yard field goal off the upright.

This time, it was Henry who led the Titans downfield, capping another TD drive by rumbling nearly untouched 35 yards right up the middle to get within 21-16 with 14:08 to go.

“Grit. It’s just grit,” Henry said of his team’s rally.

“You’ve got to believe in each other, man. We were down like this last year and we came back. We told them we’ve got 30 minutes left, all we’ve got to do is play our game, execute the plays and everything will take care of itself.”

The Chiefs’ offense had been rendered impotent by that point, unable to move the ball much after Kelce left with a concussion in the first half. The Titans blanketed Tyreek Hill whenever he touched the ball, and they stacked the box to slow Hunt down in obvious rushing situations.

The Titans finally pulled ahead when Mariota threw a strike to Decker from 22 yards, and that led to a moment of controversy. The Titans went for a 2-point conversion and the field-goal edge, and Mariota lost the ball as he was getting sacked by the Chiefs’ Daniel Sorenson.

Frank Zombo picked it up and began running for two points that would have swung the lead back to Kansas City, but the officials had ruled that Mariota’s progress had been stopped.

It wound up being a crucial call in a game that came down to the wire.

RECORD RALLY

Only two road teams have rallied from at least 18 down to win a playoff game in NFL history. The Cowboys came back from 21-3 down in the first half to beat the 49ers 30-28 in December 1972, and the Lions came back from 27-7 in the second half to beat the 49ers in December 1957.

KELCE HURT

Kelce sustained a concussion on a wicked blow from Titans S Johnathan Cyprien late in the first half. Kelce, who had four catches for 66 yards, lay stunned on the turf for a moment before wobbling toward his huddle. Trainers quickly took him to the locker room.

UP NEXT

The Titans’ opponent in the divisional round will be decided Sunday. If the Jaguars beat the Bills in their wild-card matchup, Tennessee heads to New England to face the No. 1 seed. If Buffalo wins, the Titans head to face No. 2 seed Pittsburgh.

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