By Frank Pingue
MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - Two years after contemplating retirement, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles was on top of the football world after leading his team to a Super Bowl victory on Sunday, even earning Most Valuable Player honors in the process.
Foles, thrust into the starting role after Carson Wentz went down with an injury last December, looked born for the spotlight as he went toe-to-toe with Patriots counterpart Tom Brady and came out on top in a thrilling 41-33 victory.
"You never really know what it's going to be like when you're going into a Super Bowl. I've never been here before, so there are normal nerves," said Foles, who became just the third quarterback to start and win the Super Bowl after starting three or fewer games in the regular season.
"You've got butterflies. It's a big game. It doesn't get any bigger than this, but I felt good. I felt calm."
Foles was calmness personified right from the start, leading the Eagles on an impressive seven-minute, 14-play opening drive that saw him slice through the Patriots defense before they settled for a 25-yard field goal and 3-0 lead.
That was just a taste of what was to come.
In easily the biggest start of his career, Foles continued to confidently put the ball in the air, including a 34-yard pass into Alshon Jeffrey's outstretched arms that put the Eagles 9-3 ahead late in the first quarter.
Foles was even at the center of a brilliantly executed trick play the Eagles spent a month practicing and pulled out of the hat on a fourth-and-goal situation late in the second quarter.
Opting against kicking for a field goal, the Eagles snapped the ball to rookie running back Corey Clement, who flipped it to tight end Trey Burton, who then threw to a wide-open Foles for a walk-in touchdown and a 22-12 halftime lead.
The catch made Foles the first player to register both a touchdown pass and touchdown catch in a Super Bowl game.
But Foles still had plenty up his sleeve, capping an 85-yard third-quarter drive with a 22-yard touchdown pass to Corey Clement that restored their 10-point lead.
He threw his third touchdown, which held up as the game-winning score, at the end of a pressure-packed 75-yard drive that all but sealed the Patriots' fate.
TRADED TO ST LOUIS
"I wasn't worrying about the scoreboard. I wasn't worried about the timer," Foles added. "I was just playing ball. I think sometimes you start worrying about that so much, and it starts creeping into your brain. I was just playing."
Yet all of this nearly never happened.
Foles was drafted by Philadelphia in 2012 and tabbed as the team's quarterback of the future but an inconsistent rookie year meant he started the 2013 season as Michael Vick's backup.
Injuries to Vick gave Foles another shot, only this time he did not let it go to waste and proved to be the driving force behind the Eagles' second-half surge to the playoffs.
The Eagles, however, decided to end the Foles experiment in 2015 when they traded him to St Louis, which put in motion what nearly spelled the end of his career.
Foles had such a difficult and underwhelming 2015 season with the Rams that he seriously wondered whether there was any reason to keep playing in the league.
But the once-discarded quarterback decided to give it one more shot and showed his worth on the Super Bowl stage, where he completed 28-of-43 passes for 373 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
"There was a time where I was thinking about hanging up the cleats, and I think as people, we deal with struggles. And that was a moment in my life where I thought about it, and I prayed about it," Foles said.
"I'm grateful that I made the decision to come back and play."
(Editing by Sudipto Ganguly/John O'Brien)