Phil Sheridan: Eagles' quarterback Vick not looking new or improved

Posted: September 10, 2012

CLEVELAND - If Michael Vick were merely rusty, he should be fine now. The Cleveland Browns knocked the rust off the Eagles quarterback Sunday.

But what's under the rust? That is the real concern here. If he is the same quarterback who threw the 2011 season away one interception at a time, then the Eagles are in much bigger trouble than a fourth-quarter deficit to the wretched Browns.

Before leading the Eagles to a late touchdown and a 17-16 win, Vick was terrible. He threw four interceptions, each mistake by the lake a study in poor decision-making and fizzled confidence. After the fourth pick was returned for Cleveland's only touchdown of the game, Vick admitted he was shaken.

"When you throw interceptions," Vick said, "it's one thing. When you throw interceptions for a touchdown, and it changes the dynamic of the game and you look up at the scoreboard and now you're losing, you feel a sense of dissatisfaction. You look over at the sideline. . . . I have a responsibility to this team and that's to lead them, not to hurt them."

He hurt them badly. Against any other team, he almost certainly would have cost the Eagles the game. But the Browns and rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden were incapable of taking advantage of any of Vick's gifts.

"To get out of here 1-0," Vick said, "that's what's important. The last possession, I just knew it was do or die. My teammates, they all just got a sudden look in their eyes as if they were all wondering what was wrong with my attitude. I was hanging my head. They had never seen me like that before. I felt like I let them down. It will never happen again."

Even the 90-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown drive that salvaged the game was a flirtation with disaster. Vick fumbled the ball at the end of one run and was able to recover because none of the nearby defenders saw the ball was out. On second and goal from the 4-yard line, he floated a pass through the hands of Browns linebacker L.J. Fort.

"Awww," Vick said when that play was mentioned. "I've got to get out of Cleveland."

But that means facing the Ravens next Sunday at the Linc - a real defense, in front of a crowd likely to turn on the QB if he isn't markedly better than this. It means facing the Steelers and Giants and Cowboys, teams capable of turning a game like this one into a rout.

So: Can Vick avoid more games like this one?

"All I can do is continue to get better," Vick said. "I know I can keep the turnovers down. I just have to play within the system. That's what my coach tells me all the time, not to do too much."

It was fair to wonder, even before the pick-six, whether coach Andy Reid might replace Vick with backup Nick Foles. Vick was playing worse than Donovan McNabb was playing in Baltimore in 2008, when Reid infamously benched McNabb for Kevin Kolb. But Foles is a rookie, Reid doesn't want or need a QB controversy, and there was that whole rust thing.

"I thought he was rusty," Reid said. "I'm stating the obvious, but I thought he had to work his way through it. He's our quarterback. The game's fast. It picks up off the preseason, and he didn't have any preseason."

"As a veteran," Vick said, "I thought I would have the natural feel of the game. You can't really simulate it in practice because it doesn't count."

The problem is, Vick looked like he was in midseason form - the form that he's been in since late in the 2010 season. In his last 16 starts, Vick has thrown 22 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. The Eagles' record is 8-8 in those games.

This game felt more like a continuation of that disturbing trend than a mere aberration caused by Vick's abbreviated preseason. It looked and felt and, frankly, smelled like losses to Minnesota, Buffalo, Arizona, and Chicago over the last two seasons. There were turnovers and penalties and mystifying play-calling.

"During the game," LeSean McCoy said, "there were so many flashes: 'Not this again.' "

If McCoy was having flashes, Eagles fans everywhere were having fits. Whether you believed last year's disaster should have cost Reid his job or that he deserved another chance, everyone agreed things had to be different in 2012. This was a terrible way to start.

"The turnovers were too much, along with the penalties," Reid said. "We've got to take care of that."

That's what they were supposed to be doing through all those minicamps and two-a-days and preseason games. Vick has been saying for months that this was the year he put it all together.

He has 15 more chances to prove himself, and no more excuses if he doesn't.


Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or psheridan@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @Sheridanscribe. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at www.philly.com/philabuster. Read his columns at www.philly.com/philsheridan

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