Bob Ford: For a struggling Vick, there's no place like road

Kurt Coleman celebrating his fourth-quarter interception with Nate Allen during Sunday's victory over the Browns.
Kurt Coleman celebrating his fourth-quarter interception with Nate Allen during Sunday's victory over the Browns. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 12, 2012

In the end it was all funny, of course, and the Eagles could joke about how close they came to a season-opening loss to the Cleveland Browns. They laughed in the same way that airline passengers do after a very turbulent flight ends safely. Heh, heh. That was a close one.

Yes, it was, and the Eagles weren't sure the landing gear would hold on their final drive of the day, a 91-yard slog that was helped a little by a semi-bogus roughing penalty and helped a lot when Cleveland's L.J. Fort showed why he is a linebacker and not a wide receiver.

"That drive took forever," center Jason Kelce said. "We felt every minute of it."

Michael Vick felt it most, because the Eagles were only in this unexpectedly precarious situation because of his inability to complete passes to his teammates and his success in completing them to the opposition. One more goof would finish the story, and when Vick threw a pass into the end zone toward Jeremy Maclin, one play before actually completing the game-winner to Clay Harbor, he failed to notice the presence of Fort. That should have been the fatal goof right there, but Vick got lucky for the first time all afternoon.

"Oh, man. I've got to get out of Cleveland," Vick said afterward, and everybody laughed, because the storm clouds had released them and the wheels found the runway and they could almost pretend it hadn't really been so bumpy after all.

The truth is that Vick and head coach Andy Reid and the entire team should be damn glad that the game was in Cleveland, or at least at any NFL stadium not located on Pattison Avenue in Philadelphia.

It may seem a semantic difference, and perhaps the Eagles would have been less likely to fall into the fourth-quarter hole playing in front of their home crowd, but if the exact same game had been played at Lincoln Financial Field, everything about the feel of the season could have been altered. For one thing, there wouldn't have been as much laughing afterward.

There wouldn't have been as much laughing because the team would have heard the hometown fans try to boo their quarterback and team leader out of the stadium. When Vick threw his fourth interception of the day, the one that linebacker D'Qwell Jackson took in for a touchdown that was finished off by an impressive somersault into the end zone, that would have torn it for the Linc crowd.

Vick would have gone to the D'Qwell once too often for them at that point, although in a way that interception was an improvement over a couple of the previous ones because Vick only threw into double coverage on the Jackson pick.

Nevertheless, it is doubtful fans would have recognized the progress. In Cleveland, there was a lot of raucous cheering, and that was a bummer for the Eagles, but it wasn't nearly as depressing as it would have been to hear the home fans calling for the backup quarterback before even the first game of the season was over.

That would have been the case, though, and not only would Reid have had a more difficult decision to make in sticking with Vick in Philadelphia, but he would have had a full-blown quarterback controversy on his hands. There would have been, "We want Nick" chants (much more mellifluous than "We want Foles") and perhaps even a scattered, "We want Trent" plea, which would have represented a first in the career of Trent Edwards.

Oh, it would have been ugly, and the long walk that Reid took by himself down the sideline after the fourth interception might have lasted even longer. It might have ended with Reid's tapping Foles on the shoulder. The setting and the atmosphere could have swayed even a stubborn man such as Reid.

As it was, the Browns fans were happy - although they knew from experience not to trust that emotion while the game still was taking place - but there was no added pressure on Reid to keep Vick from taking a beating in the stands as well as on the field. What was happening on the field was plenty, by the way.

Vick attempted an insane 56 passes and scrambled away from another four pass calls that disintegrated. Take out the three kneeldowns at the end of the game, and Reid/Marty Mornhinweg called 60 passes and 23 runs against the Browns, a team that was second in the league against the pass and 30th against the run in 2011. Being pass-happy is one thing, but that was pass-hysterical.

Even though the play-calling did him no favors, and even though the pass protection and route running need improvement, the biggest requirement of Vick's job - decision making - was the most lacking on Sunday.

It has to get better, according to both Vick and Reid. Well, no kidding. And it better improve starting Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field against the Ravens. If he thought Cleveland was bad, a repeat of the same performance might leave him saying, "Oh, man. I've got to get out of Philadelphia."

This time, however, no one will be laughing.


Contact Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com, read his blog at www.philly.com/postpatterns, and follow @bobfordsports on Twitter.

 

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