He stood in the Philadelphia Eagles locker room Sunday night, dressed in a white t-shirt and gray pants that had been tucked into high top basketball shoes. All he needed to do was pull on a blue shirt and pull the buttons through the holes. But he grimaced as he struggled to maneuver his right arm through the sleeve. He bit his lip as he tried to button the top button.
Finally he gave up and shook his head. He would have nothing to say on the day he hurt his ribs and chest, and maybe ended this magical run that had been his redemptive season. He might as well have brushed away the Eagles' hopes along with it.
If Vick is going to miss any significant time for the Eagles – if they are going to cast their playoff hopes with Kevin Kolb(notes) – then Sunday's injury was a horrible loss. As quarterbacks, they aren't even close.
"Mike can take the ball when a play breaks down and run it up the middle and make something happen out of it," Eagles tackle Jason Peters(notes) said following the 17-12 loss to the Washington Redskins in Donovan McNabb's(notes) first game back to Philadelphia. "Kevin can do that too, he did it a couple of times [Sunday]. But Kevin isn't as fast as Mike. Kevin can make that a six-yard play; Mike can make it a 40-yard play."
This was not a teammate's indictment of Kolb. Peters meant to be complimentary when he said Kolb could turn a broken play into a six-yard gain. It's just that Vick came back this season after prison and national scorn, and a year behind McNabb as maybe the best player in the NFL – certainly the best in the NFC East. He tore across the field, eluding tacklers as well as he ever had back when he was the Michael Vick Experience and there wasn't a quicker or more exciting player in the league. It startled everybody who assumed he had been away too long when he went to prison to be as effective as he had once been.
"He's as fast as he was in Atlanta," said Redskins linebacker London Fletcher(notes) as he left Lincoln Financial Field. "He was back to being that kind of a runner. Maybe then you would say he had 4.30 speed. Now it might be like 4.34."
"But it's fast," he said.
And as a thrower? Vick was leading the NFC with a 110.2 passer rating heading into this game with the Redskins.
One league executive, when asked about Vick last week, said the quarterback had become so elusive and so accurate a passer "that people don't know what to take away from him." He added: "He's been working with [Eagles coach] Andy [Reid, a former mentor of McNabb and Brett Favre(notes)] and has been able to throw the ball and make his checkdowns better than in the past."
All that went away at the end of the first quarter of Sunday's game, when he was hit on each side by Redskins DeAngelo Hall(notes) and Kareem Moore(notes) as he fell in the shadow of the Washington goal line. The Eagles wouldn't disclose the injury other than to indicate it is a "sore chest" and that he will have an MRI on Monday. But even if he doesn't have broken ribs, the soreness could be so great that it will probably rob him of his greatest asset: his ability to run and take hits. And if he misses one or two months – never mind the rest of the season – Philadelphia is in trouble. Kolb just can't do the same things as Vick.
"When Vick went out that changed our whole game plan," Fletcher said.
After that the Redskins didn't worry much about a quarterback running out to the edge of the field. They settled into a soft Cover 2 defense, let the Eagles move the ball downfield in small chunks and dared Kolb to beat them with his arm. He couldn't do it.
If Vick is indeed sidelined, a romance that was slow to develop will at least temporarily be halted. Neither the city nor the Eagles seemed to know what to think of him when he arrived in the summer of 2009 fresh from federal prison for a dogfighting conviction. He kept saying and doing the right things, and appeared to accept the idea he would be a backup to first McNabb and then Kolb after McNabb was traded in April.
But after Kolb went down with a concussion in the season-opening loss against Green Bay, Vick came in and was so good Reid was forced to do something that shocked everyone: making Vick the team's permanent starter when Kolb was cleared to play in Week 3. Suddenly Philadelphia was smitten with a story of a star broken and put back together again. He seemed to fit them.
Just Sunday morning, as he stood in the old Snap on Tools truck he turned into a party van and brings to every Eagles game, Bill Cahill of Delran, N.J., said Vick has brought excitement that Eagles fans had not enjoyed in years.
"If Vick gets hurt the fan base in Philadelphia is going to go down the tubes," Cahill said.
Hours later, he didn't know how right he would be. Even as Kolb worked to bring the Eagles back against the Redskins, pushing to within 32 yards and a throw of winning, the stands were almost empty. Something was gone when Michael Vick left the game.
Everyone felt it.
As the players left the stadium a rain began to fall. It was cold and raw and filled with a truth the Eagles didn't seem to want to accept. If Vick is hurt for a long time or can't be Michael Vick anymore, a bitter autumn awaits.