Rich Hofmann: Vick taking Reid out on limb with him

Posted: November 02, 2012

NEWS THAT the Eagles held a players-only meeting in the aftermath of their three-game losing streak comes as no surprise. It is a familiar dynamic, right out of The Standard NFL Locker Room Manual. If form holds, what will follow is the ritual circling of the wagons, followed by the blaming of the media, followed by - in the event they beat the New Orleans Saints on Monday night - the proclamation that "nobody believed in us except for the 53 people in this room." And, et cetera.

Far more interesting was quarterback Michael Vick's proclamation that he was going to throw off whatever mental constraints have been holding him back and just be himself again. When someone said it sounded like the old Michael Vick, like the Virginia Tech Michael Vick, he said: "I'm ready to go, man. Put my shield back on my helmet, man. It's time to play ball."

Which raises at least one question: Huh?

Think on this for a second. When exactly during his time in Philadelphia was Vick that kind of player, this icon of his memory? We are talking about a half-dozen games in 2010, and maybe two or three others sprinkled into 2011, and that's it. Ever since the Wussy Bowl - that snow-delayed, Tuesday night game when the Minnesota Vikings came into Lincoln Financial Field and sacked Vick six times, blitzed him on nearly 50 percent of the pass plays and reaffirmed a stark template for dealing with the Michael Vick Experience - this has been a decidedly tepid offense.

The dynamism of Vick's early 2010 re-entry into the world of an NFL starter has never been matched, except in brief snippets.

Yet Vick is claiming his ability to recapture it - come hell or a high rate of interceptions. We have said all season that coach Andy Reid's fate was in Vick's hands - and now Vick has announced his intention to trust his instincts and to just wing it. Which means that everything just got a little bit more dangerous for everyone.

All of this comes in the days after Vick and Reid apparently had a conversation about the coach's incessant, almost weekly statement that he was evaluating everything, including the starting quarterback. Although now Reid says he never considered benching Vick - and, well, fine.

"Honestly, [I was] not really worried about job security because when I'm out there on the field, I'm giving it everything I've got," Vick said. "More so, I'm trying to protect the football, trying not to make a mistake, and that's not me. I'll be honest with you.

"I've got to go and I've got to play lights out. I've got to play the game and leave it all out on the field and play aggressive and shoot it and run the ball when I feel there's a need to - get a seam, get a crack, take it. Just do what I've been born to do, blessed to do, born to do, and take advantage of my God-given abilities . . . "

He has been a turnover machine all season. He finally has a game in which he does not give the ball away, and now he's saying that protecting the football is not him. But there is more.

When told Reid said, after viewing the video, that Sunday's turnover-free loss to Atlanta was one of the quarterback's better games this season, Vick said, "It was efficient, but it wasn't . . . "

He said the word "efficient" as if he were smelling something.

"We like to go downfield," Vick said. "We like to attack. Our offensive personality is being aggressive, picking and choosing our spots and making plays that we know we can make. I just felt like, in certain scenarios, I kept it conservative . . . "

But the downfield thing has been taken away by defenses willing to play the safeties deep and dare the Eagles to beat them by walking the ball up the field. The rate of big passing plays has plummeted. Consider: The Eagles have had a 40-yard play on one of every 52 pass completions this season. Last year, it was one of every 42. The year before, the year of Vick's dreams, it was one of every 19 completions.

Vick is doing better than he ever has against the blitz, but defenses are still coming after him (and the offensive line) at a very high rate - because the only way to stop them is to get touchdowns, and Vick cannot find enough people downfield to make that happen.

Some of it is the pressure. Some of it is him. Reid acknowledged that Vick is missing some things downfield, but he said: "Every game, you don't play a perfect game. You can take any player in this league [and] nobody plays the perfect game. So, I mean, you can sit here and say, 'OK, did he miss one?' That's OK. That's all right. You're going to do that in the game. He managed the game well. He got the ball out on time. I thought he did a nice job there."

Somewhere, Vick is reading that and looking as if he is smelling something.

"I'm very comfortable running the offense," Vick said, disputing a quote by wide receiver DeSean Jackson from the other day. "When certain things are going on, I'm only human, just like everybody else. I think I was just trying to cater to certain things and trying to be what everybody wanted me to be.

"The most important thing is, I've just got to let it go. I've got to get my swag back. I've got to go back to playing football the way I love to play it and not worry about what's going to happen because that's out of my control. What I do, what I can control, is the way I play and how aggressive I can be."

Caution to the wind, then, and a couple of steps farther out onto the tightrope - with Andy Reid right at his side.


Contact Rich Hofmann at hofmanr@phillynews.com.

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