Bob Ford: This time in Jacksonville, Eagles quarterback is a winner

Michael Vick had four touchdowns in Jacksonville, three passing and one rushing. (Ron Cortes / Staff Photographer)
Michael Vick had four touchdowns in Jacksonville, three passing and one rushing. (Ron Cortes / Staff Photographer) (Brian McCardle)
Posted: September 27, 2010

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The last time the Eagles played in Jacksonville, a game you probably remember, the starting quarterback wasn't the reason they lost the Super Bowl, but he didn't cover himself in glory that evening, either.

In fact, there is still debate about exactly what he covered himself with there on the field during the hectic fourth quarter. The truth has faded into legend now, the details have ceased to matter, and the two sides can debate each other endlessly on the Donovan McNabb legacy.

The discussion will always return to Jacksonville, however, and the understanding that McNabb could have changed everything in that game, but didn't. If the opportunity arises, he might be reminded of that on Sunday in Lincoln Financial Field.

Welcome to a week that promised to be very interesting from the moment the Eagles traded McNabb to the Washington Redskins. The plot was already intriguing, with McNabb returning to match offenses with the young quarterback who toiled in his shadow for three years. Now it is even better, as Michael Vick has supplanted Kolb in the starting role and, for his first trick as the top gun, Vick goes to Jacksonville and has the game McNabb would have liked to have had there.

It was only an early regular-season win over the Jaguars, who might be really terrible, but it was another game of watching Vick invent his own version of Andy Reid's offense. He buys himself time with his footwork and his legs behind a very ordinary offensive line, sometimes runs, sometimes misses the receiver badly, but sometimes fashions a work that almost makes you gasp.

"I like all three of my quarterbacks and the first two particularly to win us football games now, but Michael, the way he can take off and run, that's a real threat," Reid said. "He's not a statue. I don't want him standing back there like a statue. I want him to put his name on our offense and put his personality on our offense."

Just before the end of the first half, with the Eagles holding just a 7-3 lead, Vick had them at the Jacksonville 16-yard line with 12 seconds left and no time-outs. It was a play that calls for the kind of discipline Vick didn't always display in his first term as an NFL quarterback. He had to wait for DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin to get open - they were the only receivers because Reid dialed up maximum protection - had to throw the ball into the end zone or out of bounds, had to not take a sack and, if all else failed, had to preserve enough time to get a field goal if the touchdown attempt didn't work. That's a lot of stuff.

Even with maximum protection, the Jags began to leak through the line, and Vick darted out of their way, leaping to one side and the other like a man dodging raindrops. He leaped and darted long enough for Maclin to take his man to the back of the end zone and then sprint toward the goal line and take Vick's missile at the pylon.

Whether Donovan McNabb could have made the same play, whether Kevin Kolb could have made the same play, is a reasonable question. It is moot, though, because Vick is the Eagles' quarterback now, and if he hasn't yet erased the memory of McNabb or smoothed over the awkward hustling of Kolb to the sideline, he has done something neither of the others did very well. During his time at quarterback this season, Vick has taken the Eagles inside the opponent's 20-yard line eight times, and seven of those trips have resulted in touchdowns. Maybe there was nothing wrong with the design of Reid's red zone offense. It was all about the execution.

"You work so hard to get there. You don't want field goals. You want touchdowns," Vick said.

For the day, Vick was 17-for-31 for 291 yards, with three touchdown passes and another run for a touchdown. He still hasn't thrown an interception as an Eagles player. (His last pick was Dec. 24, 2006, and he has attempted 118 passes since that one, with a fairly significant schedule break thrown in along the way.) His passer rating was 119.2, the third straight game his rating has been 100 or higher, the longest streak of his career.

Meanwhile, Kolb watched from the sideline until very late in the going when he warmed up for what would have been mop-up duty if the Eagles had gotten the ball back again. Would Reid have subjected him to that ignominy if it had been a home game? That will have to be answered another time.

"It's tough because you want to be out there. I'm happy Mike played well and happy we got the win," Kolb said. "I'll get in there whenever it happens. Andy always has a plan."

Yes, but as Kolb learned, sometimes the plan changes rapidly. As night covered the field in Jacksonville on Sunday and a lightning storm rushed in from the ocean, the Eagles left town in better shape than they did the last time. They have their own lightning at the moment and Reid is going to use it until he gets burned.

Next weekend, as the old quarterback returns and the young quarterback watches, the quarterback of the moment tries to keep his hot hand alive.

"This is a rough game," he said.

It hasn't even begun yet, not with wins over Detroit and Jacksonville. Not really. It begins against the Redskins, and the interesting part is that no one can guess how this story will end.


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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