Vick, Eagles fail in the clutch

Eagles quarterback Michael Vick eludes linebacker A.J. Hawk (50) and other Packers defenders in the fourth quarter.
Eagles quarterback Michael Vick eludes linebacker A.J. Hawk (50) and other Packers defenders in the fourth quarter.
Posted: January 10, 2011

The ball was in the air. It carried the hopes of Eagles fans that this, finally and at last, would be the year it all came together for this team. It was thrown by Michael Vick, the man who, more than any other, inspired those hopes.

When the ball came down in the arms of Green Bay Packers defensive back Tramon Williams, those hopes were dead.

An Eagles season unlike any other had ended pretty much like all the others of the Andy Reid era. The mountaintop - a Super Bowl title - was in view, but not attainable. For the second year in a row, the Eagles were eliminated in the wild-card playoff round, 21-16.

The Packers came into Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday and controlled the game from the very start. The Eagles' offense could not build any momentum. Their defense was helpless to stop star quarterback Aaron Rodgers and unknown running back James Starks. The Packers were sitting on a five-point lead when the Eagles got the ball back at their own 34-yard line.

The offense that had scored 59 points against Washington, that had come back from a 31-10 fourth-quarter deficit against the New York Giants last month, needed to score one more touchdown to extend the season. Vick opened the drive with a short pass that DeSean Jackson took for a 28-yard gain, down to the Green Bay 38.

The buzz in the stadium was palpable. Here it was, the come-from-behind drive that longtime franchise quarterback Donovan McNabb had failed to produce so many times. Vick had his chance.

"We were very confident," Vick said. "We thought we were going to win the game. I thought we were going to win the game. I had an upbeat feeling about myself. I felt like I was in control."

Vick overthrew tight end Brent Celek on first down. He threw wide of running back LeSean McCoy on second down. On third and 10, he hit rookie receiver Riley Cooper on a slant pattern for 11 yards and a first down.

There were 44 seconds left. Ball on the Green Bay 27. The call from the sideline was for a play in which all four wide receivers on the field sprinted for the end zone.

"Four verticals," Vick said.

"Michael pumped [a fake] inside and threw outside," Reid said.

Cooper was running alongside Williams, jostling for position. He turned a little later than the defender and waited under the ball as it descended. Williams had better position. He caught it and the Eagles' season was over.

So now what?

It is the question that hangs over this team after every one of these premature postseason exits. Last year, the answer was to trade McNabb, the franchise quarterback, and let Pro Bowl running back Brian Westbrook go.

Those harsh decisions were made after the Eagles finished the regular season with an 11-5 record and were beaten badly, 34-14, at Dallas in the first round of the playoffs. This year, the Eagles finished 10-6 and were beaten at home in the first round of the playoffs.

The final score was closer, but that detail is offset by the fact that this loss was on their home field.

So now what? How is Vick's first season any better than McNabb's final season? Especially considering that McNabb's resume included many postseason victories before that final embarrassing loss in Dallas.

With Vick's contract up and projected starting quarterback Kevin Kolb in extended limbo, the Eagles' answers to those questions will carry very high stakes.

It is much easier to analyze the Eagles' defense. It was not good enough, not nearly, to contend for a Super Bowl. Injuries played a part in that, but the inconsistency was there all along. Reid must decide whether to retain young defensive coordinator Sean McDermott or to bring in a more experienced replacement.

On Sunday, that defense gave up three long touchdown drives. Starks gained more yards rushing, 123, than he had in his entire injury-marred rookie season. Rodgers was able to pick apart the patchwork secondary, extending drives with third-down completions and finishing them with three scoring passes.

But it was the Vick-led offense that ultimately failed in the clutch. After averaging 30-plus points per game in his starts, the Eagles produced just 16. It didn't help that Pro Bowl kicker David Akers missed two makeable field goals, but those attempts resulted from this big-play offense short-circuiting.

As that last pass settled into the defender's arms, Celek said he immediately thought of all the opportunities missed during the long season.

"We do this for 20-some weeks, including preseason," Celek said. "I thought about all of that. It's just over. Just like that. I hate this day."

They all do. So do the fans. It is, after all, a day that has come every year for over half a century now.


Follow columnist Phil Sheridan on Twitter: @SheridanScribe. Read his blog at http:// go.philly.com/philabuster or his recent columns at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.

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