November 17, 2010

Vicktory.

Two weeks ago, I wrote, "For better or worse, it's all about Michael Vick now." Turns out it was for better.

America has been diagnosed with a lethal case of Michael Vick fever. After picking apart the Washington Redskins in what has been called "one of the best quarterback performances of all time" by every single blogger and journalist on Earth, there's suddenly no escaping him. Vick is everywhere.

And the stories about him! Oh, the stories. Nothing drives up page views like a good Michael Vick piece. What if he had been drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles? What kind of contract will Vick get after the season? Will he remain a Philadelphia Eagle? What of donuts?! For the love of God, tell me!

To all the contract talk, I say this: Whatever. If Vick stays healthy and continues to perform at an MVP level, he'll be an Eagle in 2011. If he gets seriously injured, his play falters or he resumes a life of animal cruelty, he won't be. He still has roughly half a season to go before he meets his end of the bargain, which is "be spectacular on and off the football field," but if and when he does, he'll be rewarded with a truckload of Philadelphia dollars.

There's really nothing to worry about. The Eagles always seem to have a surplus of cap space; that won't be a concern. And if Vick is as changed a man as he seems, he won't walk away from his picture-perfect redemption story. A young team, a coach who's finally taught him the finer points of the game, the adoring love of a football-crazy city. And let's not kid ourselves, he's not gonna find a better group of weapons than LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. After a lifetime of playing with the Brian Finnerans of the world, he must be in heaven right now.

But if Vick, for some outrageous reason, would rather be a Buffalo Bill or an Oakland Raider, there's always the franchise tag (or whatever the franchise tag will be called under the new collective bargaining agreement). More or less, he's trapped, albeit it in the best possible situation for both sides. Vick can't fool himself into abandoning the perfect football environment, and the Eagles can't lose out on their resurgent superstar quarterback.

So let's focus on this year, and the wide-open National Football League. At best, the Eagles are currently the number one team in football. At worst, they're fourth, behind the Giants, Patriots and Jets. They've already beaten the Falcons and Colts, two other top teams, and they've lost hard-fought games to the Packers and the Titans. They're absolutely in the discussion.

But you don't make the playoffs based on arbitrary polls; this isn't college football. You make it based on wins and losses, and that's what makes this week so very important. If the Eagles beat the Giants at home, they'll move into sole possession of the NFC East lead. Then they'll travel to Soldier Field for a showdown with a "couldn't be more fraudulent" Chicago team, followed by the sieve-like Houston defense at home and the "not entirely dead but close" Dallas Cowboys on the road.

As crazy as it sounds, there's no reason they can't win four straight. Dimitri Patterson has strengthened the secondary, the offensive line has been reasonable and the offense in general looks truly unstoppable. I don't expect a repeat of Monday night, but nothing gels a team like destroying a hated opponent. They won't be that good, but they can be close. And after their embarrassing loss to the Cowboys, the Giants are even more of an enigma than the Eagles. Should Andy Reid and company be nervous about them, or is it actually the other way around?

My only concern? Vick will buy into the hype and believe he can take on the Giants by himself, only to be disemboweled by their quarterback-killing defense. They've already injured Tony Romo, Jay Cutler and Shaun Hill this season, and you know they're already drooling over Vick's refusal to slide. All it takes is one wrong move, one freak collision, and we're watching Kevin Kolb man a ho-hum playoff contender for the final six weeks.

So I guess we're about to get a glimpse at how mature the new Michael Vick really is. Does he recognize the Giants as a true threat? Does he understand that he's now the leader of a Super Bowl-caliber team, that his long-term existence is more important than gaining a few extra yards on a meaningless run? Can he play both hard and smart against a team light-years ahead of the guys he just fustigated?

I believe Vick when he says he's got his priorities straight, that he understands both life and football better than he ever has before. And I truly believe, after Monday night, that the Eagles are championship-ready. It feels like we're all in the middle of one of those scenes on every Super Bowl DVD, when either a player or a coach notes that this particular moment was when it all came together. Was Monday's "Vicktory" that moment? We'll have our answer Sunday night.

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