Sam Donnellon: What's with Vick's fumbles?

Michael Vick looks for fumble forced by Steve McLendon, eventually recovered by Eagles' Danny Watkins.
Michael Vick looks for fumble forced by Steve McLendon, eventually recovered by Eagles' Danny Watkins. (YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: October 09, 2012

PITTSBURGH - It happens in baseball. Guy thinks too much about the throw and it sails like an errant dove.

Happens in hockey, too. Guy doesn't score for a few games, starts aiming the puck, starts missing the net by wider and wider margins.

Free throws. Ask Shaq about free throws. Ask Ron Hextall about 40-foot wrist shots.

Anyone see Jim Furyk in the Ryder Cup?

We don't hear about it much in football, though. Unless the guy is a kicker and, well, everyone knows they're more like golfers than football players, anyway. We don't hear recurring dropped passes blamed on thinking about it too much, don't hear about recurring penalty calls blamed on overthinking.

And we don't even consider recurring fumbles to be a mental meltdown.

But after another game in which he continually handed the opponents the ball as if he were trying to hand them the game, it seems fair to at least ask:

What the hell is going on in Michael Vick's head?

"I don't know," he said after Sunday's 16-14 loss to the Steelers that dropped the Eagles to 3-2. "I wish I could tell you. I don't have an explanation."

Well, I do. Actually, I have a few. Maybe he is squeezing that ball like a slumping hockey player squeezes his stick or a slumping hitter squeezes his bat or a golfer tries to be too perfect on a 5-foot putt and leaves it 2 feet short. Maybe, in trying to please the coaches, analysts and media members who want him to think pass first, second and third, he now begins his jaunts downfield a half-second later than he once did, making him more susceptible to being caught, or blindsided as he was on his second lost fumble Sunday.

Did I say second? Officially, that's all it was, two. Vick had another, caused when he rolled on the ball on a head-first slide after a scramble, but it was reversed because linebacker Larry Foote inadvertently touched one of his feet when he was down, changing the ball from live to dead.

He fumbled without anyone but Mother Earth touching him. He fumbled a total of four times Sunday; along with the reversed call, there was one the Eagles recovered, forced by nose tackle Steve McLendon. And although coach Andy Reid dismissed his costly goal-line fumble - one that did count - as the byproduct of a big hit and Vick said, "The guy put his helmet right on the ball," replays showed that it was Ryan Clark's shoulder that dislodged the ball, not his dome.

Foote got his hands on that one, ending a promising drive two-thirds into the first quarter that would have given the Eagles an early lead. When the Eagles got the ball back, Vick spit it up again on the third play from scrimmage, this time after Lawrence Timmons stripped him from behind as he took off to run.

I wonder if that fumble, and others like it this season, are a byproduct of the endless mission to make him a pass-first, second and third guy, to curtail his scrambling for the sake of safety. Those who have harped on this over the years conveniently ignore how the worst of his injuries have occurred - by staying too long in the pocket, not by leaving too early.

They also conveniently ignore how it could play on a guy's psyche. Especially a guy who 2 years ago won the job over Kevin Kolb at least in part because of his mobility.

He has fumbled eight times this season, and lost five. One, in Arizona, was a 10-point swing. Sunday's lost fumble into the end zone was the difference in the game. Someone asked if he thought the fumbles were a byproduct of how he plays and Vick said, "That's been my style and I've never had a problem fumbling the football."

Again, the truth: He is the active quarterbacks leader in fumbles lost and is in first place this season. He has twice led the league - in 2004 and 2010, and he is on pace to shatter both totals. In 2004 he fumbled 16 times and lost 12. In 2010, he fumbled 11 times and lost eight.

Then again, those have been two of his more productive seasons, so some risk is inherent in his style of play, at least the style he is accustomed to. The Falcons were 11-5 in 2004, and the Eagles were 10-6 in 2010. Vick made plays with his feet then, created chaos on the fly, used the same instincts he has used in rallying the Eagles to three come-from-behind victories.

Sunday would have been the fourth had the Eagles' defense - which has not allowed more than 20 points in any of five games this season (the Cardinals scored a touchdown on a Vick fumble) - stopped the Steelers on that final drive.

Using a no-huddle offense, Vick moved the Eagles from their own 21 to the go-ahead touchdown, hitting five different receivers. It was quick and it was frantic and it was vintage Vick.

"I think it helped us get into a rhythm," he said. "Doing the things that we know, dumping the ball off. Just kind of dictating what we wanted the defense to play. It's part of the reason we were moving the ball down the field."

Might be a good idea to start that way next Sunday against the Lions. Just in case he needs to clear his head.


Contact Sam Donnellon at donnels@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @samdonnellon. For recent columns, go to philly.com/SamDonnellon.

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