Coming to Terms with Vick as the Eagles’ Starting QB… Again

Coming to Terms with Vick as the Eagles’ Starting QB… Again

There may not be a more outspoken critic of Michael Vick the football player than myself since his arrival in Philadelphia in 2009. It’s got nothing to do with past criminal behavior – he paid his debt to society. In fact, I kind of like the reformed Mike. He strikes me as a thoughtful and dare I say genuine person. I simply don’t think highly of his resume.

People often talk about Vick as if he’s accomplished a lot in the NFL. They often wonder aloud on TV or radio if we’ll ever see “the old Vick” from his Atlanta days, as if that one-read-and-take-off style made him a good player. Sure, the Falcons got a couple trips to the playoffs out of it, and Vick frequently made highlight reels, but he never grew as a quarterback during his six seasons there. People forget he might have been on his last leg in ATL anyway before it abruptly came to an end.

Then Vick joined the Eagles and ascended to franchise quarterback in about one year’s time. He was definitely a different player, actually trying to run an offense for probably the first time in his life. They smoked a few bad teams, and Vick’s flaws went overlooked for a month or two before the most predictable thing ever happened. Right as he was winning over some of his biggest detractors, defenses started catching up with him again.

2010 was not as great as people remember. That’s not to say Vick’s Comeback Player of the Year award wasn’t warranted. There were just so many times the season could have gone wrong earlier than it did. It could have been Week 2 when Detroit was blitzing the hell out of Vick in his first start, but the defense couldn’t capitalize on his mistakes and the Birds snuck out of there with a win. It could have been the night of the Miracle at the New Meadowlands, where Vick was about as bad as bad can be for 52 minutes before suddenly becoming Superman.

Eventually his luck did turn though, and glaring imperfections caught up with him much as defenses did. The Vikings embarrassed the Eagles on a Tuesday night in what was a clueless performance by Vick, and two weeks later he was heaving the decisive interception in a first-round playoff game at home. Since then, it’s been nothing but a cocktail of soul-crushing turnovers and devastating injuries.

Hey, don’t take my word for it. The numbers speak for themselves: a 56.3 completion percentage; 177 touchdowns to 121 turnovers (run/pass); a pedestrian 80.6 passer rating; an 8.6 sack percentage, which ranks 153 out of 196 all-time among qualifying players; appeared in 16 games only once; has just two playoff wins. Take those over a 10-year career, and they’re not very good. Kind of makes four trips to the Pro Bowl ring hollow, and if it was any player besides Vick, you’d be wondering how they still have a starting job in the league.

Yet here we are again. Vick will be the Eagles’ starter this season, and just like I had to come to terms with it in 2010, when I knew it ultimately wouldn’t work out, I have to come to terms with it now.

One way it’s different this time around is at least I agree he should be starting. Holding an open competition at the position was the right thing to do, and he won fair and square. It’s not like when Kevin Kolb was groomed to take over, was shuffled in and out of the lineup for two quarters until he got concussed, and then was replaced. (Why did they ever trade Donovan McNabb in the first place if they were going to do that?) Vick legit earned this.

It’s still difficult not to associate No. 7 with failure though. 30 preseason snaps no matter how awesome doesn’t change the fact that for 10 years this has been the type of quarterback who will always choose to freelance rather than play within the offense. He holds on to the ball far too long, gives it to the other team, then goes down with an injury once the season has already spiraled out of control. Why should we believe anything else will happen now?

Maybe you believe he is a fit for Chip Kelly’s offense, which promises to make the most of Vick’s athletic ability, while perhaps also simplifying the decision making. Maybe it’s because he’s in the best shape of his life, or that he was able to rekindle his passion for the game. Maybe a quarterback just can’t fail in Kelly’s system – it’s not like Nick Foles had any trouble moving the offense. Or maybe you along with many others will choose not to believe this story plays out it any manner other than the same as it always has until Vick proves unmistakably otherwise.

I can’t tell anyone how they should feel, because I’m undecided myself. I figured if accuracy and decision making and protecting the football were all virtues, Vick would lose an honest quarterback competition almost anywhere, probably would have a long time ago. But he didn’t, and I saw that with my own eyes. To top it all off, what he managed to showcase in two preseason games was nothing short of tantalizing. It was almost like a movie trailer for a comedy where I know they showed me all of the funny parts, but I kind of still want to see it anyway.

With Vick it’s never been a question of talent, he’s just never been able to play the position the way the NFL demands. Of course, Chip Kelly might be on the verge of bucking a lot of league trends this season, so maybe he can with Vick, too.

There’s no denying Vick has evolved. He’s a leader now, not just in the sense that he was in Atlanta where he was a celebrity and guys looked up to him. He’s an inspirational leader, a dedicated worker and teammate, a locker-room guy, a tone-setter – somebody who demonstrated change is possible both on and off the field. But if he’s going to find success again or ever eclipse the somewhat modest accolades compared to his star, he will have to continue evolving.

If he can do this Chip’s way, Vick has a chance to be the best he’s ever been. Yeah, for the very first time I honestly believe that. And I’ll clutch that belief firmly while I once again prepare for the worst if you don't mind.

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

NEW ORLEANS -- The weeks and months have quickly piled up. Nerlens Noel has not played an NBA regular-season game since last season ended for the Sixers on April 13. Nearly eight months later, Noel is nearing the return he has been eyeing for quite some time now. 

“It’s always an excitement to be able to play basketball after this amount of time, including the summer, not being able to play organized basketball at a competitive level,” Noel said Thursday. “I’ve been really looking forward to this. I think I’ve gained some momentum coming back from this minor surgery, and I think I’m in a really good place and I’m feeling good with my body. Everything is on point.”

Noel has been sidelined since undergoing elective left knee surgery in October to address an inflamed plica. He traveled to New Orleans on Wednesday to join the Sixers ahead of their 99-88 win over the Pelicans (see game recap). Noel continued his rehab Thursday while the team prepped for the game. 

“I’ve been able do five-on-five, full contact,” Noel said. “I’ve tried to maximize my opportunities of that with the team being gone on the road. I came down here and went through most of shootaround and it went well. Now these next couple of days, [I will be] going through practice, still working on my wind. I do like where I’m at now.”

The Sixers’ next game is Sunday against the Pistons in Detroit. Brett Brown had given Noel’s availability for that game a “maybe” (see story)

“I’m not sure,” Noel said of playing Sunday. “I’m ready to go with these next couple of days and see how my wind feels and how my body feels, which I have been feeling good. So it’s a possibility.”

When Noel does return, there is a scenario in which he could be paired with center Joel Embiid. Last year, the Sixers struggled finding the best way to utilize Noel and Jahlil Okafor, also a center, at the same time playing the four and five positions. As Okafor has said of playing with Embiid, Noel also believes his off-the-court friendship with the towering rookie would translate onto the court. 

“I think it would be something that’s experimented,” Noel said. “It’d definitely be interesting.”

Noel candidly expressed his opinion of the Sixers’ logjammed frontcourt at the start of the season. Since speaking to the media after his surgery, Noel has mentioned he is in a good mental place (see story). For him, that means being out on the court again. 

“I love myself and I love the game of basketball,” Noel said. “When I step out here to come and play, it just brings a lot of enjoyment and excitement to me. Regardless of what the details of it are, I just love the game and I’m happy to just be playing.”

Best of NHL: Flames edge Coyotes in OT for fifth straight win

Best of NHL: Flames edge Coyotes in OT for fifth straight win

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Dougie Hamilton scored 1:09 into overtime, Chad Johnson stopped 27 shots and the Calgary Flames beat the Arizona Coyotes 2-1 on Thursday night.

Mark Giordano scored for the Flames in a chippy game filled with big hits and multiple fights.

Hamilton capped a fast-paced overtime by deking Arizona's Mike Smith with a forehand before flipping in a backhander. Calgary has won five straight and eight of 11 (8-2-1).

Max Domi scored before leaving with an upper-body injury and Smith stopped 33 shots for the Coyotes, who have lost six straight and 11 of 14 (3-7-4).

Arizona captain Shane Doan became Arizona's all-time assist leader and is the fifth player in NHL history to own his team's records for games played, goals, assists, points, game-winning goals and power-play goals (see full recap).

Crosby, Penguins roll over Panthers
SUNRISE, Fla. -- Sidney Crosby got his 18th goal and added an assist to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins over the Florida Panthers 5-1 on Thursday night.

Conor Sheary, Tom Kuhnhackl, Matt Cullen and Carl Hagelin also scored for Pittsburgh. Matt Murray made 28 saves.

The Penguins have won four straight and five of their past six.

Jaromir Jagr scored his 755th career goal, and Roberto Luongo stopped 25 shots for the Panthers. Luongo allowed three goals on Pittsburgh's first five shots.

Panthers coach Tom Rowe, who replaced Gerard Gallant on Nov. 28, made his home debut. The Panthers have lost five of six under Rowe, but managed a point in three of those losses (see full recap).

Price loses cool as Habs beat Devils
MONTREAL -- Carey Price lost his temper after being bumped twice in his crease and made 19 saves to help the Montreal Canadiens beat the New Jersey Devils 5-2 on Thursday night.

Torrey Mitchell scored twice and Phillip Danault, Artturi Lehkonen and Max Pacioretty also had goals for the Canadiens in their return from a five-game trip.

Adam Henrique scored a goal and set up one by Taylor Hall for New Jersey, which ended a two-game winning streak.

Montreal had a season-high 49 shots on Cory Schneider.

A wild first period included three goals, four goal reviews and Price's meltdown (see full recap).