Bob Ford: Sunday could be turning point for Vick, Eagles

Kevin Kolb, still recovering from a concussion, will not play against the Lions. Andy Reid says he's still the No. 1 QB.
Kevin Kolb, still recovering from a concussion, will not play against the Lions. Andy Reid says he's still the No. 1 QB.
Posted: September 19, 2010

Turning-point games don't usually announce themselves ahead of time. They are recognized only in retrospect, across the long sweep of what came next.

In that way, there is nothing particularly momentous about the setup for Sunday's game in the cavernous covered garage that is Ford Field in gloomy downtown Detroit between the Eagles and the Lions.

The Eagles are already frayed around the edges after just one regular season game, and any outcome, even a loss to the woeful Lions, could be written off as nothing more than the hangover that resulted from the opening binge of injuries and bad luck against the Packers.

If the 2010 season is, at its core, a referendum on the decision to install Kevin Kolb as quarterback, then Sunday's game doesn't seem likely to advance the plot. Kolb, still recovering from a concussion, will not play against the Lions, and Andy Reid has steadfastly said his status as the starter is not in doubt.

Still, you wonder if there isn't a turning point hiding here.

Reid is, of course, the same coach who steadfastly said he believed Donovan McNabb would be the 2010 quarterback for the Eagles. He said it amid the smoldering rubble of the playoff loss to the Cowboys and kept saying it for quite a while.

Looking back, that 34-14 loss signaled a sharp change of direction for the Eagles. It probably sealed McNabb's fate, but it also convinced the organization that the defense had to be blown up. Six starters on the season-ending depth chart are either not with the team (Macho Harris, Sheldon Brown, Will Witherspoon), are on the team but not starting (Moise Fokou, Juqua Parker), or are starting at a different position (Akeem Jordan). A large handful of regulars, including Chris Gocong, Darren Howard, Quintin Demps, and Sean Jones, are gone as well.

At the time, it was unclear if the dismissal at the hands of the Cowboys would be a turning point or merely another stop at Frustration Station on the way to one more season of tinkering. It turned out to be something else, a defining moment for the organization.

There have been other such moments during Reid's tenure, although perhaps none as dramatic. When the Eagles came up flat in the 2003 NFC championship loss to Carolina, the upshot of the quiet 14-3 defeat was the decision to get McNabb a major weapon at the receiver position. That time, it was the incumbent crop of receivers whom Reid steadfastly supported, but his actions weren't as supportive. In came Terrell Owens, out went James Thrash, and the Eagles went to the Super Bowl.

They never got back there under McNabb, of course, and if last season's playoff loss was the end of the organization's patience, the first indication that day would come was seen on Nov. 23, 2008, when Kolb took the field to start the second half against the Baltimore Ravens.

Nothing about the buildup to that game could have predicted the change. McNabb had played poorly - and failed to know the overtime rules - the week before in Cincinnati and hadn't been effective for several weeks. But pulling him from a game in which the Eagles trailed by three points against one of the best defenses in the league didn't make much sense. It happened, though, and McNabb's career in Philadelphia was tenuous from that moment. All on an otherwise unremarkable November day in Baltimore.

So what could happen Sunday in Detroit to change the course of things? Well, that all depends on Michael Vick. His stock is either going to rise or fall depending on his play against the Lions. If he has a poor game, or even a so-so one, then the public groundswell to keep him as the starter upon Kolb's return will disappear.

If he has a great game, however, a truly great game, then even the coaching staff will have to rethink things. If that great Vick showing is followed by another disappointing outing or two by Kolb, then even Reid might not be as steadfast.

It could happen. The Lions aren't going to try to pressure Vick very much. They will try to contain him within the pocket and force him to beat them with his passing. Maybe he does, and still gets loose for some game-altering runs. Maybe the team suddenly looks like a contender again, instead of a transition team going through a rebuilding year.

Sure, it could all happen on an otherwise unremarkable September day in Detroit. More likely, Vick will be somewhere between awful and awesome and nothing much will change. The season will roll on as before, waiting for Kolb to return and waiting to see if he is the one who ultimately moves the team in his direction or away from it.

There will be a turning point somewhere, though, even if it isn't immediately apparent. Vick has the chance to make one against the Lions. The only reason to pay close attention to this game is to see if he does.


Contact columnist Bob Ford at 215-854-5842 or bford@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/bobford.

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