Vick's greatest feat might be his handling of his diva receiver

Posted: January 09, 2011

Michael Vick has admitted he wasn't exactly the world's greatest teammate when he was in Atlanta. He wasn't a lot of things back then - a team player, a film-room guy, the first one to the office, a model citizen, a leader.

So more improbable than Vick's leading the Eagles to 28 points in less than eight minutes against the Giants a few weeks back has been how deftly he has handled the trickiest of football issues: the disenchanted star wide receiver.

Of all the things Vick has done on the field this season, none has been more important than how he has managed DeSean Jackson off it. The Eagles would not be in the playoffs hosting the Green Bay Packers on Sunday if Vick had not kept the mercurial Jackson relatively in check, happy, and grounded.

Now Vick will have to get Jackson the ball for the Eagles to have any shot of extending this unexpectedly fun season for at least one more week.

The greatest wide receivers in the National Football League all are a little nuts. You have to be to cut across the middle, risking life and limb, to catch a football. They are high-maintenance divas by nature, glamour guys fueled by attention and glory. There have been only two of those here during Andy Reid's tenure, and if you don't remember the first, go to your nearest book store and buy Next Question, by the renowned author Rosenhaus, Drew.

Jackson has developed into the second (and, unfortunately, he is represented by that same Rosenhaus, Drew). It is no secret that he is understandably irritated that the rookie contract he signed in 2008 as a second-round pick out of the University of California provided him with only a $480,000 base salary this season. He is one of the most dynamic offensive players in the league, able to turn a routine play into a touchdown, and yet he is paid like a reserve who isn't expected to contribute much.

Rightfully so, Jackson feels entitled to a lot more money, and his unhappiness has simmered throughout the season. Sometimes Jackson has pouted, as he did after the Chicago game, when Reid reportedly barked at him in front of his teammates for texting while Reid was speaking. Sometimes Jackson has been a showboat, as when he fell into the end zone for a touchdown against Dallas and ran around needlessly before finishing off that amazing punt return to beat the Giants at the end of regulation.

The whole time, with careful, calculated words, Vick has been there, not making too big a deal about anything but offering gentle yet pointed criticism, a dissenting opinion, and unsolicited support without offending his most valuable target.

"Hard to do nowadays, isn't it?" Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg told me on Thursday.

Yes, it is, but Vick has done it.

"He has that certain mentality where it's about business," Mornhinweg said. "It's about winning the next football game. That's all he's focused on. He's got great common sense about things when he's speaking in public. It comes fairly naturally to him, and he knows, I'm not sure strategy is the right word, how you go about business that way.

"I think one of the keys is, he's gone about his business - I'm talking on the field, off the field, media, players - in a way that typifies or exudes confidence and leadership. There's no question about that."

The trick for Vick against the Packers will be to get the ball to Jackson. The statistics don't lie about how vital that connection is to the Eagles' success. When Vick is able to connect with Jackson, the Eagles win. When he doesn't, they lose.

As good as Vick was all season - he finished with a 100.2 passer rating, the fourth highest in the NFL - he was better when he targeted Jackson (105.0), who hooked up with Vick on four scoring plays of at least 30 yards, including an 88-yard pass at Washington and a 91-yarder at Dallas.

The Vick-to-Jackson connection will be key against the Packers, and the Eagles will need to establish it as quickly as possible. Otherwise Vick might face his toughest task yet, and that is keeping Jackson's head in a game the Eagles must win to keep this season alive.

Mornhinweg thinks Vick can handle just about anything, and that was not the case earlier in his career.

"I had some friends that had coached him," Mornhinweg said, "and I think there might be a possibility he is much more focused every day, every hour on winning the next ball game and what it will take."

It will take exactly what Vick has done so deftly all year - keeping Jackson's head in the game and the ball in his hands.


Contact columnist Ashley Fox at 215-854-5064 or afox@phillynews.com. Follow her on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AshleyMFox.

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