FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Former NFL referee Jim Tunney whistled down any notion that Michael Vick isn't being protected like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Tunney, who officiated in the league for 31 years and can claim three Super Bowl appearances, spoke to Yahoo! Sports on Wednesday about the Eagles quarterback's comments following a 29-16 loss to the Giants.
Vick was sacked six times in the Week 3 loss and expressed his frustration at not getting what he perceived to be any calls from the referees.
"Every time I throw the ball, in all my highlights and just watching film in general, every time I throw the ball, I'm on the ground, getting hit in the head and I don't know why I don't get the 15-yard flags like everyone else does," Vick said.
But in the eyes of Tunney, there is and should be no difference between Vick and the likes of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, who are more traditional pocket passers. His 676 yards rushing accounts to a style which likes to get out of the pocket and make plays with his feet, making him one of the most exciting players in the league. It also means that once he's in the open field, he's no longer a quarterback.
In fact, the sights are trained squarely on him.
"The difference between Brady and Manning and then Michael Vick, is that he doesn't stay in the pocket. Once he gets out there, out of the pocket, he's a runner, not a quarterback," Tunney told Yahoo! Sports. "And in today's NFL, what happens is that you end up getting hit — you're not just getting tackled you're going to get hit and gang-tackled. Michael Vick is subject to what's going on in the NFL today. He's a target."
The idea that Vick isn't receiving calls from the referees is nothing new to Tunney, who has seen and heard this same line in his three decades of blowing the whistle, which ended in 1991 with his retirement from the NFL. To Tunney — "This has been going on for years before Michael Vick, and it won't stop with him" — it is part and parcel for a quarterback to feel he's not getting calls. There is an acknowledgement on the part of Tunney that the league has created rules to protect the "franchise player" and make sure that quarterbacks don't take unnecessary hits and risk injury.
And just because Vick's style is to move around and create with his feet rather than staying in the pocket doesn't mean he will get any more or any less protection than what is afforded to him according to the rules. Tunney said there is an "awareness" of his playing style among referees, but it won't lead to a change in interpreting the rules.
All of which leads to a certain "risk-reward" for Vick, who can generate big plays with his athleticism and willingness to leave the pocket but also leaves himself exposed to big hits and the protection afforded him once he takes off running.
"As a referee, I'd protect Michael Vick just the same as Joe Montana, Dan Marino or any other quarterback out there. In college, Reggie Bush or Michael Vick could use their speed to get away and make plays, but you can't do that in the NFL. Here, a defensive coordinator will tell you it's about pressure, pressure, pressure. It's the style of play," Tunney said. "You don't change the rules for the player. Just because Tom Brady is back there passing doesn't mean you watch out especially for knees. You need to be aware of things, but you can't change the way you call the game just because of one player or the way he plays. And the same is true for Michael Vick."
Kristian R. Dyer covers the NFL and can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer
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