How tough? That's the next chapter in a story that keeps sprouting new angles. Does Michael Vick lead this team improbably deep into the playoffs, perhaps as far as the Super Bowl, his superhuman talents matched by his superhuman resilience?
Or does it end as the mounting evidence suggests, with him crumpled cartoon-like on some field real soon, leveled as he released the ball? Slammed on one if his harrowing but increasingly necessary scrambles? Bending his knee or ankle on one of those awkward slides of his?
Generating 350 yards of offense last night, he was once again the story, once again the guy no one - players, fans, media - could take their eyes off of. He completed 22 of 33 passes for 302 yards, ran the ball 10 times for another 48 yards, and rallied the Eagles with two fourth-quarter touchdowns to erase Houston's 24-20 lead.
And he got hit. Again and again and again. Eight times in the first half alone, half of them requiring a slow ascent to his feet.
"You're on the sideline saying, 'Oh, man, I hope he gets up,' " Eagles defensive tackle Trevor Laws said. "And he gets up. Every time. He's a tough guy."
The Eagles have huge issues on defense, continue to aggregate annoying and counterproductive penalties at a mind-boggling rate, and have that soap opera with DeSean Jackson and a new contract brewing as well.
But it's clear this Eagles season is Vick's, and on multiple levels. The moral wrangling over whether his play equates to some type of redemption for past sins has been drowned, at least for now, by a sea of humanity, all of it wearing the uniforms of his opponents.
The Houston Texans came into the game with the 31st-ranked pass defense, which probably explains why the Eagles, ahead 14-3 early in the second quarter, attempted to pass on five of the next six plays and nine of the next 11.
The Texans secondary played as advertised. But so did the Eagles' iffy offensive line, beset again by injuries. The result was big plays and big hits, Vick finishing on the ground on a frightening amount of each. Eight times he was banged in the first half alone, sometimes because he ran, sometimes because he didn't.
The more you watch this wildly entertaining season play out, the more it reminds you of those Sixers years when Allen Iverson was at the top of his game. Iverson was never the teammate that Vick has developed into, and the pieces designed to keep teams honest against Vick are not as well structured as the group Larry Brown surrounded Iverson with. But the desire, the drive and the incessant collisions, simultaneously entertaining and frightening, are both a reason to watch and reason to fret.
By the end of the game, Michael Vick had taken 10 good licks. The most damaging apparently was the lick to his thigh Amobi Okoye put on him as he scrambled deep in Houston territory in the second quarter. It brought Kevin Kolb to his feet as Vick was helped to his, stumbling off to the sideline.
A couple of miles on the stationary bike and he was good to go. He said this week that he really hasn't felt a cumulative effect from the hits, which again reminds you of Iverson skidding across the baseline, slamming into the base of the basket, bouncing right up to continue his mind-numbing pace and bone-numbing play.
Bone-numbing to you and me anyway.
Maybe it's something in Virginia's James River, who knows.
Eagles linebacker Stewart Bradley had a theory. "Sometimes it looks like he gets big hits, but I think he has a way of taking some of it off," he said. "He knows how to control his body and relax it."
I floated this to Vick.
"There's no science to getting hit," the quarterback said. "No science to it, no protecting yourself."
Iverson made it through full seasons doing this, rounds of playoffs, took the Sixers to the NBA Finals once. But the games are not the same, football and hoops, nor are the bodies in motion. Iverson had only to deal with one Shaq. Vick is running from a team of them every week.
Or worse, standing there and taking the hit to deliver the ball.
Can he last this way? Every empathetic bone in your body says no. Every logical thread ends with that image too often played out over the last few weeks, a hush through the crowd as Vick lifts himself, or is helped to his feet.
He has been the the most intriguing football story this season. His story of redemption though, has morphed into one of resilience and survival.
It's clear by now how far Michael Vick can take them.
What's still not clear is how much more he can take.
"You find a lot about yourself playing this game," he said just before he walked away. "Times when you think you can't do it something always comes into your mind that says yes you can.
"That's what drives me. Achieving greatness is what I strive for."
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