Risks too many, rewards too few from Vick

PHILADELPHIA — By the end of Donovan McNabb's long run as quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles, the team felt it needed a more aggressive offensive field general, one not as afraid of making a mistake as McNabb, who owns one of the NFL's lowest all-time interception rates.

The Eagles went with Kevin Kolb briefly, then with Michael Vick, who proved to be better.

Problem is, Vick has slowly become the anti-McNabb, with an all-too-cavalier attitude toward turnovers as being inevitable and often unavoidable.

We saw it last season, when Vick in the closing minute of a tight playoff game against Green Bay tossed a hurried, ill-advised and underthrown pass down the left sideline toward a well-covered rookie receiver who had just nine career receptions at the time.

Tramon Williams intercepted it for the Packers without any resistance from Riley Cooper, enabling them to preserve their five-point lead on their way to a Super Bowl championship.

The first-down throw was an unnecessary risk that Vick, despite all his experience, either did not recognize or was temporarily blinded to by an adrenaline overload.

Either way, there was a lesson that needed to be learned there.

Alas, it wasn't.

The Eagles, with Vick continuing this season to toss the ball opponents' way like it's a live grenade, haven't sniffed the playoffs since.

Whereas McNabb was too cautious, Vick is too reckless, too unrealistic about the limitations of his prodigious talent. Unless head coach Andy Reid, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and quarterbacks coach Doug Pederson can get him to dial it down, they can forget ever being as successful as they were with McNabb, whose 92-49-1 regular-season record and 9-7 postseason record was not good enough to keep him in town.

Vick, by the way, is 15-9 in regular-season games as an Eagles starter and 0-1 in the playoffs. This is with better, more experienced offensive talent all around him than McNabb ever had, including an offensive line that took a quantum leap forward this season under new position coach Howard Mudd.

The challenge for the coaches is to get Vick to straddle the fine line between necessary aggression and recklessness instead of crossing over to the dark side, like he's been doing for the last season-and-a-half.

In Sunday's game, for example, the interception he underthrew into double coverage and the strip sack in which he lost the ball deep in Eagles' territory were both on him. Vick had plenty of time to throw the ball away on both plays.

Getting him to recognize the effect he's had on this team's non-playoff run would be a start, because after Sunday's win, Vick sounded as if he had no clue.

"I think a majority of my interceptions came from tipped balls and I take responsibility for that because Coach Mornhinweg always tells me that's my responsibility to get the ball up," Vick said. "Maybe I tried to throw a sidearm pass or the defensive tackle just got his hands on the ball. There's no way to prevent that other than, I don't know, talking to my quarterback coach and figuring it out.

"That's never happened to me before so, like I said, I'm not going to dwell on that. I don't think our season was decided based on the interceptions that I threw. It was a smorgasbord of things that happened that we all know we can change and that we could have done better. I take responsibility for my actions. I'm man enough to say that. Next year will be totally different. I promise."

Following the meandering course and meaning of that statement can be more difficult than trying to catch Vick after he takes off out of the pocket. But there is no mistaking the underlying message that he simply does not understand the importance of avoiding turnovers and the magnitude of his many errors in judgment.

Every time Vick tries to play Superman and forces the football into closed spaces or exposes himself to injury by refusing to slide, he moves the Eagles further away from the playoffs. This is true especially on the days when he makes most of those plays work for him, because it creates more of a comfort zone for him to stray further across that line to a place where ultimate victory is impossible.

"We'll go back and look at all of those turnovers and we'll learn from them," Reid promised. "Michael will do that this offseason. You can't turn the ball over obviously, and you don't want to have as many turnovers as we've had. They happen for various reasons, but you just can't have that many. We'll go back and we'll evaluate all of that."

But make no mistake: if Vick doesn't play at least a little more conservatively, the Eagles likely will never make it back to the playoffs, much less advance in them.

To facilitate this, maybe the Eagles need to bring in a free-agent backup who knows how to do it the other way. Someone like, say, Donovan McNabb.

nick.fierro@mcall.com

610-778-2243

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