Michael Vick and the 2012 Philadelphia Eagles: Will They Finally Graduate?

Phil Keidel@@PhilKeidelContributor IIJune 4, 2012

They will fly as far as his wings can carry them.
They will fly as far as his wings can carry them.Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

No end of newly minted college graduates made their expensive strolls toward a diploma and probable unemployment in the past few weeks. 

These days, I cannot think of a more appropriate word to describe the swatch of multicolored polyester or satin they drape around your neck as you walk toward your desolate future than “stole,” i.e., “I borrowed $150,000 for an undergraduate degree from this school, and now what?  Those bastards stole from me!”

For the better part of a decade, Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb were stringing together “this could be the year!” regular seasons and “if only…” playoff campaigns, only to end up like that guy everyone at school pointed to as a cautionary tale who finished a few credits shy of a degree. 

By the time McNabb left, Eagles fans generally echoed John Belushi’s famous Animal House lament: “seven years of college down the drain.”

Will the 2012 Philadelphia Eagles finally stop switching majors and cutting class long enough to graduate to a championship? Only if their quarterback can stay on the field and learn from his own wildly up-and-down football history.

There was no choice but to hitch the wagon to Michael Vick after the season he had two years ago, fresh from jail. But for the heinous nature of his crimes and his yeah-I-don’t-really-think-he-has-changed-all-that-much faux-humility, his heretofore unseen reclamation of a stellar football career in 2010 would have been a heartwarming tale that Hollywood could love. 

They greenlighted “Invincible” after a scrub, after all. 2011’s results, though, told you what is and what will never be. Vick is not Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, or even post-four-neck-surgeries Peyton Manning.

Vick is at his core a chucker and a ducker. The best chucker/ducker the league has seen in a generation, mind you, but that’s it. Without a defense that can keep him off the field for decent stretches and receivers who can go get the ball when he starts scrambling and throwing the ball all over the damn place, Vick is just Kordell Stewart with better SportsCenter clips.

Certainly that is his Atlanta legacy. Time and highlight reels make casual fans incorrectly remember Vick as a perennial All-Pro-caliber quarterback during his time with the Falcons. But the numbers say much different: in his six seasons as the Falcons’ QB1, his highest quarterback rating for a season was 81.6, in 2002. 

Sure, he ran a lot (902 rushing yards in 2004, 1,039 rushing yards in 2006.)  The quarterbacks who won the Super Bowls after those three seasons? Brad Johnson, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.  Game-breaking speed at the quarterback position will always be insanely overrated.

Flash, thrills and awesome feats of athletic daring are great in the moment, but over a 16-game season good and mundane performance is the difference between “I’m going to DisneyWorld!” and “it’s not my fault DeSean Jackson didn’t try this season.”

This is not to say that Vick needs to be 2010’s revelation all over again. In 12 games in 2010, he threw for 21 touchdowns and ran for nine more while only turning the ball over nine times. Vick’s still-there gifts had a lot to do with all that, certainly. But so did a league that had prepared for Kevin Kolb to be the Eagles’ 2010 starter and the consequent delay in opposing defenses properly game-planning for Vick.

There was also the small matter of Vick accruing six of his 30 scores in one game—that 59-28 thrashing of the Washington Redskins on a rainy Monday night in November. Thirty scores in 12 games is eye-popping; 24 scores in 11 games less so.

Vick does not need to replicate his 2010 numbers for the Eagles to win—but he had better not submit another sketchy campaign like the one just past. Missing three games in the middle of the season was never part of the plan, obviously, but it's way too convenient (and inaccurate) to pin the Eagles’ lost 2011 season on the games Vick missed. 

He led them to the dooming 3-6 start that included: an unfinished game (Week 2 at Atlanta, loss), a 176-yard/0 TD/1 INT stinkbomb at home (Week 3 NYG, loss), backbreaking consecutive losses at home to Chicago and Arizona in Weeks 9 and 10 in which he combined for 341 passing yards, no touchdowns and three picks. That he played four good games to finish the season is very instructive; when Vick plays well, the Eagles usually win.

So the Eagles wait for orientation (training camp), coursework (preseason games) and the series of scheduled examinations (regular season). And then, they can only hope for a thesis defense (playoffs) and finally graduation (a ring).

Study hard, No. 7.