Michael Vick picked one hell of a time to play his worst game of the season.
His lethargic play was symbolic of the Eagles’ overall lifeless effort. Vick slogged through perhaps his least effective passing game this year, completing just 58 percent of his passes for 263 yards in a 24-14 loss to Minnesota at Lincoln Financial Field on Tuesday night.
He was also stripped on a sack with 44 seconds remaining in the first half by Antoine Winfield, who scooped up the loose ball and returned it 45 yards for the game-tying score.
With that play, Minnesota looked back, and it included a dejected Vick, lying prone on the frozen turf, swiping fruitlessly at the ankles of the Vikings cornerback, grasping for something that wasn’t there.
The loss itself has little effect on Philadelphia’s goals as a team. Needing to win each of their last two games and a Bears' loss in Green Bay to secure a No. 2 seed in the playoffs, the Eagles instead can do no worse than the NFC’s No. 3 seed, which still earns them a home playoff game.
But it remains to be seen whether Tuesday’s chilly letdown clinches football’s most-coveted individual prize for Tom Brady, who could win the award by doing absolutely nothing against Miami on Sunday.
Brady, in all likelihood, will win his second MVP. The margin between him and Vick, no matter who you perceived to be in the lead, was razor-thin prior to the Eagles’ flub against the Vikings, a team manned by a rookie quarterback and whose early-season relegation to the role of spoiler will be tough for voters to ignore.
I surmised recently that Tuesday night would be the game Vick validated himself as the league’s most valuable player. And he did, only not in the fashion I, and possibly others, may have thought.
He did it by turning the ball over twice and generating a season-low passer rating of 74.1.
Stick with me.
There exists a natural ebb and flow to every NFL game, every team. There are high points and low points. And the elevation or depth of a team’s emotional peak or valley can be dictated by the performance of one single player, in most cases the quarterback.
Peyton Manning is that player in Indianapolis. Drew Brees in New Orleans. Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh.
Vick is that player in Philadelphia, as is Brady in New England. But Vick deserves the MVP because his individual success or failure has influenced the play of his team more profoundly than any other player, including Brady.
Case in point: Brady has thrown for less than 250 yards in a game eight times this season. The Patriots are 6-2 in those instances and have won by an average of 13 points, primarily because of the efforts of backs Danny Woodhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who have combined 744 yards and nine scores in those six victories.
In other words, in those games in which Brady was either off or simply slowed by the defense, his teammates have compensated and New England didn’t miss much of a beat.
We’ll adjust things a bit for Vick, since he’s much more of a dual-threat, leading the league in rushing yards per attempt, and can win games in multiple ways.
Three of the Eagles’ five losses this season have come when Vick has played a full four quarters. (He played only a few series in a 17-12 loss to Washington in October.) In each of those three losses, Vick has either thrown for fewer than 265 yards or run for fewer than 44.
But, unlike with Brady, Vick has gotten little to no help from his supporting cast.
In those three losses, Philadelphia’s two main secondary threats—LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson—were invisible, combining for 250 yards and no scores. McCoy averaged only 44 yards per game, and Jackson caught only eight balls for 118 yards.
When Vick is underperforming, because he fills more than one integral role in the offense, more of his teammates will be affected.
That much was clear on Tuesday. And it will likely cost him the MVP.
But it shouldn’t. It should only help his cause.