Eagles quarterback Michael Vick's play will determine future, and it's been lousy

Posted: December 31, 2012

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - What matters is that Michael Vick, the most polarizing athlete since Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali, is being evaluated as a passer and as a leader.

Not as a sideshow, a human video game, as he was in Atlanta; or as a sadistic felon, the crux of his immense notoriety after Vick's conviction on gambling and dogfighting charges in 2007.

Vick was a criminal sideshow mired in debt when the Eagles reintroduced him to the league in 2009.

Improvisational quarterbacking, prison time and bankruptcy are behind him. Now, for most people, Vick is just a football player.

Probably soon an unemployed football player, but there will be lots of those from this Eagles team in a few weeks.

In Vick's case, he is due $16.5 million next season from a 4-12 Eagles team expected to fire its coaching staff within hours of Sunday's 42-7 indictment handed down by the Giants. The Eagles this year drafted a talented rookie, Nick Foles, who played after Vick, 32, missed significant time due to injury for the third season in a row.

Also, Vick played lousy the past two seasons. He never played worse than Sunday in the finale, when he started in place of Foles, who broke his throwing hand last week.

Considering Vick's past, the importance of his poor play is, in a way, a joyous revelation: His play, not his rep or his rap sheet, will determine his future.

As for his play . . .

It had been 7 weeks, 5 of them spent in the fog of concussion. Vick was beyond rusty; he was seized up like the Tin Man.

He played with about as much heart. Vick played unengaged, indifferently, like he didn't want to get hurt again. Like this was a paycheck, not a gut check.

Perish the thought, Vick insisted. He said he played as hard and as well as he could: 19-for-35, an atrocious 54 percent completion rate, for 197 yards, with a nice touchdown and a killer interception. His passer rating was 68.4. That's all he had to give.

As for the other guys . . .

"You watch us play and we don't [execute] things we do in practice," Vick said. "I don't know where that comes from. I know it's frustrating. It's difficult. Because, me, I leave it all out on the field. I give it everything I can.

"Sometimes I wish I could play other positions, but I can't."

With the vinegar a true leader exudes weekly, Vick, in possibly his final game as an Eagle, finally offered accurate words of leadership of a leaderless team.

When it was pointed out to him that these were his most critical words, Vick backpedaled . . .

"Let's clear this up," he said. "I'm not saying my teammates gave a lack of effort and I noticed it. I just know we can play better."

Then reiterated . . .

"I noticed there's a big difference from what we went through last year and the year before. It shouldn't be that way. I have to sit here and be candid right now: If every guy in that locker room was to come up to this podium, they should say the same thing I say. Verbatim."

Unkind, true. Then again, had his teammates stood behind the dais, they might not have been very kind to Vick, either.

He threw softballs off his back foot in a stadium notorious for its shifting, shearing winds. He hung out receivers. He didn't sprint; he jogged. Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora, both defensive linemen, ran down Vick from behind.

If this was a job interview for a starting spot somewhere in the NFL next season, he might as well have parked in the boss' private spot.

Vick disagrees. He does not think this game should be held against him. Or any other game this season, or last, behind often horrid, depleted offensive lines. He is as good as he was in 2010, his best professional season.

"I think so. I really do. I know what I can do," Vick said, peeved.

He graded himself on a generous curve: "I missed [six] games. Coming out there with 1 week of practice and somewhat being efficient. Fighting the elements. And still performing," Vick said.

Should spotty campaigns in 2011 and 2012 discourage potential suitors?

"I can't answer that for you," he said, this time extremely peeved.

Yes, he can.

Like the market anticipating the fiscal cliff, Vick knows that his stock is as low as it has been since he took over as the starter in 2010. At best, he is a risk.

He turned the ball over on the fifth play from scrimmage, another floated pass over the middle. It was the 15th turnover of his 10-game season; his 10th interception against 13 total touchdowns and 12 touchdown passes.

He ended two drives throwing high to tiny receiver Damaris Johnson, who was wide-open for a first down, then for a touchdown.

Vick hung out No. 1 receiver Jeremy Maclin three times, once into a hellacious hit from linebacker Chase Blackburn.

Perhaps the best bomber in the game when dialed in, Vick couldn't calibrate his mortar shots. Both Maclin and Riley Cooper had to play defensive back on long passes down the right sideline in the third quarter.

The Eagles adjusted, calling a slew of less-demanding plays for tight end Brent Celek and running back LeSean McCoy. Vick targeted them 11 times. McCoy led the team with five catches and 61 receiving yards, most of which came long after he caught short passes with no defender close by.

The one touchdown came on fourth-and-1, a rollout to Vick's left on which he found Maclin on that side of the end zone.

It was Vick's worst game as a healthy Eagle.

Worse than the four-pick debacle in Buffalo last season, as he played his third clunker in a row after a concussion.

Worse than his two-interception effort against the Cardinals last season, when he played with broken ribs.

Worse than the four-interception opener at Cleveland this season, which the Eagles won. Vick was playing after virtually no preseason due to thumb and rib injuries, which still lingered.

So, assuming he was still foggy in Buffalo and tender in Cleveland, and assuming he had fully recovered from the affects of his concussion from nearly 2 months ago, this was Vick's worst game as a healthy player.

Viewed through the prism of where Vick was in the summer of 2009 - leaving Leavenworth, on probation, hoping for employment with a team that would improve his skill set - Sunday, with all of its ugliness, was a beautiful thing.

Asked if he wanted to return to the Eagles, Vick, ever confident, replied as if he held every card:

"I don't know. I need to take some time to [reflect on] everything that happened this season. I don't know right now.

"I just need to get some rest."

That's understandable.

It has been a long 5 years.


Email: hayesm@phillynews.com

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