And if you are Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid, a man who devoted his offseason to eliminating a potential quarterback controversy – only to have one appear in bright Kelly green before the regular-season opener was over – you are wondering if this is going to be a very long year.
On a charged afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field, Reid rolled out a new starting quarterback for the first time since the waning days of the 20th century, and the results couldn't have been more miserable.
Kolb, in his third career start, had a punchless first half in Sunday's 27-20 defeat to the Green Bay Packers, completing 5 of 10 passes for 24 yards as the Eagles generated a grand total of three first downs. The ever-patient Philly fans turned on Kolb in his 29th minute as a starter: After he misfired on a short pass to Pro Bowl wideout DeSean Jackson(notes), nearly serving up an interception for a touchdown to Packers linebacker Clay Matthews(notes), some of the 69,144 fans at The Linc booed, venting the way they often did at McNabb during his 11 seasons as the face of the franchise.
It was enough to give a guy a serious headache – except Kolb already had one, having been slammed to the turf while being chased by Matthews midway through the second quarter. At halftime it was determined that Kolb had a concussion, and his day was done.
Reid's day, however, was getting still more painful. First the coach watched Vick, the three-time Pro Bowler and notorious dogfighter, come in and give Philly an appreciable and immediate bounce, nearly leading the Eagles back from a 17-point, second-half deficit and looking suspiciously like his pre-scandal self.
In other words: Hello, quarterback controversy.
To cap things off, McNabb, the 33-year-old quarterback Reid jettisoned on Easter, was victorious in his first stint as the would-be savior in the nation's capital, summoning a smooth, capable performance in the Washington Redskins' 13-7 victory over the Dallas Cowboys that put his new team a game ahead of his old one in the NFC East standings.
Oh, and the Eagles also lost a pair of starters (fullback Leonard Weaver(notes) and center Jamaal Jackson(notes)) to apparent season-ending injuries, and Reid is facing heat for having allowed Kolb and middle linebacker Stewart Bradley(notes) – who after hitting his head on teammate Ernie Sims'(notes) thigh slumped to the turf, got up briefly and fell back to the ground like a battered boxer – to return briefly to the game following concussions.
This is not where Reid expected to be after choosing Kolb, a 2007 second-round NFL draft pick who was impressive in two starts last season, over McNabb, who'd led the Eagles to five NFC championship games and a Super Bowl, and ultimately having the audacity to deal the six-time Pro Bowler (for a second-round draft pick in 2010 and a third- or fourth-round selection in 2011) to a division rival.
When Reid phoned Kolb on Easter and told him, "Hey, bud, I just made you the starting quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles," he was projecting the confidence of a man expecting to go all in and win.
He still may, but as Reid addressed reporters after Sunday's defeat, he was practically mumbling as he answered a slew of unpleasant questions.
Why were Kolb and Bradley allowed to return to the game after the head injuries?
"They were fine. All of the questions that they answered with the doctors registered well, but as it went on, they weren't feeling well, so we took them out."
Why did the offense struggle with Kolb in the game and get more productive when Vick played?
"I'm going to take responsibility for this. There were a few different things going on there. It wasn't just the quarterback or the offensive line. It was a combination of things. I'll make sure I go back and fix that … [At halftime] we tried to make a few adjustments and do a couple of different things. We made a few adjustments there, and we were able to move the ball."
Once Kolb is healthy, will he remain the starting quarterback?
But is it really that simple? Not when Vick, now in his second year with the Eagles after an 18-month stint in a federal prison for his role in a dog-fighting ring, bears a reasonable resemblance to the quarterback who led the Atlanta Falcons to the 2004 NFC championship game – where they lost to McNabb and the Eagles in the same stadium.
On Sunday, Vick threw pinpoint passes (16 for 24, 175 yards, one TD) and showcased the jaw-slacking speed that no man at his position has ever possessed. This was not the step-slower Vick of 2009 but the vintage version: He carried 11 times for 103 yards, his first 100-yard rushing game since November 2006 and the 10th (including playoffs) of his career. He also became the third quarterback in NFL history (along with former Eagles star Randall Cunningham and ex-49ers Hall of Famer Steve Young) to eclipse 4,000 career rushing yards and gave the Eagles, in their Kelly-green throwbacks, a vivid reminder that he was once a star.
As for those halftime adjustments to which Reid referred? "We didn't really make any changes, man," said second-year wideout Jeremy Maclin(notes), whose 17-yard touchdown reception cut the Packers' lead to 10 with 10:23 remaining. "I think in the second half we just tried to make plays."
Said Packers middle linebacker Nick Barnett(notes): "They put in Michael Vick – that was the adjustment. They ran the same routes and the same offense, but we had to account for him. There were times I was chasing him and tried to take the right angle, but all of a sudden the angle changed."
In a moment of honesty that was less calculating than it sounds, Vick, who has genuine regard for Kolb's talents and considers him a friend, told reporters, "I feel like if I had been out there for four quarters maybe we would have had a chance to win the game."
The Eagles might have, anyway, had they been able to convert a fourth-and-1 from the Green Bay 42-yard line with two minutes remaining. Reid called for Vick, lined up in the shotgun, to get the first down with his feet, a play that surprised absolutely no one, and least of all the Packers.
"He'd been making all the plays, and we knew they were going to put it on him," Barnett said. "We were like, 'What's he going to do – throw the ball on fourth-and-1? I don't think so.' So yeah, we were ready."
Matthews led a charge of Packers defenders who blasted through the Eagles' line and stuffed Vick for no gain, preventing the fantastic finish the quarterback has been playing out as a daydream in his head who knows how many times over the past three years.
"I thought we were going to come back and win that game," Vick said.
Now it's Kolb, at an alarmingly early stage of his development, who'll have to summon a comeback of sorts to keep the Philly fans from howling their displeasure. Vick, meanwhile, surely made himself some money on Sunday. By demonstrating that he still has the rare skill set that made him the No. 1 overall pick of the 2001 draft, Vick will likely be an attractive option for another NFL franchise when his contract expires after this season – or, perhaps, he'll have supplanted Kolb as McNabb's successor by then and will get paid by Philly.
As he stood in the players' parking lot outside The Linc an hour after Sunday's game, accepting congratulations from a group that included his 8-year-old son, Michael Jr., Vick looked as calm and comfortable as he had in the shotgun while confronting a second-half deficit to a trendy Super Bowl pick.
"That was just like the old me out there," he said softly. "It felt good."
I'm not sure Reid's emotions were quite as clear-cut.
THE HIGH FIVE …
• So Matt Schaub(notes) had 326 fewer passing yards than Peyton Manning(notes) and the Texans still beat the Colts by 10? Think about that – and if you bit on the Arian Foster(notes) (33 carries, 231 yards, three TDs) hype and took him on your fantasy team, treat yourself to a milkshake and blame the calories on me.
• After last year's gut-punch of an 0-6 start and Vince Young's(notes) disastrous 2008 season opener, it's nice to see that the Titans' quarterback and his coach, Jeff Fisher, came out Sunday with a sense of urgency (and throttled the Raiders 38-13).
• Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez(notes) made history at Heinz Field, becoming the first NFL tight end (and seventh player overall) to catch 1,000 passes, but the Steelers made a major statement, winning 15-9 on Rashard Mendenhall's(notes) 50-yard scoring run in overtime in their first of four Roethlisberger-free games – and reminding us yet again that Mike Tomlin can flat-out coach.
• I guess Pete Carroll and his Seattle Seahawks didn't get the memo that the NFC West is supposed to belong to San Francisco … and after punking the 49ers by a 31-6 score on Sunday, while the defending champion Arizona Cardinals had to eke out a victory over the St. Louis Rams, is it possible that Seattle is now the team to beat in the division?
• New York Giants' final game in old stadium: 41-9 defeat to the Carolina Panthers last December. Giants' first game in new stadium: 31-18 victory over the Panthers on Sunday. Following the showdown between two coaches who might well be replaced by Bill Cowher after the season, Tom Coughlin can breathe a bit easier than John Fox this week.
TWO THINGS I CAN'T COMPREHEND
1. The idiotic conceit of Pastor Terry Jones.
2. What Logan Mankins(notes) is thinking – and what kind of advice the Patriots' unsigned Pro Bowl guard is getting. When I saw the report by ESPN's Adam Schefter on Friday that a potential long-term deal between Mankins and the Patriots had fallen apart last month because of his refusal to make a public apology to team owner Robert Kraft (whose integrity he had previously questioned), my inclination was to tell both the player and his boss – for whom my regard is well-documented – to stop being so sensitive and hug it out. But then I talked to a source familiar with the negotiations who told a slightly different story: That Mankins hasn't gotten a real contract offer since June, when he turned down a lucrative deal because it didn't match or beat the seven-year, $56.7 million deal the Saints gave Pro Bowl guard Jahri Evans(notes) in the spring. At that point Mankins blasted Kraft, whom he later called to offer an apology. Evidently, per Schefter's report, it was suggested to Mankins that he publicly apologize to Kraft, and he bristled at the request. To which I say … Logan, you cannot be serious. Even if Mankins believes Kraft is being unreasonable, is it that hard for him to wrap his head around the reality that the person who signs the checks, like the customer, is always right – especially when this much money is at stake? If the cost of doing business is uttering four words into a microphone – "Mr. Kraft, I'm sorry" – and the payoff is tens of millions of dollars, Mankins is the victim of some seriously fuzzy math. On a positive note, as he prepares to sit out most or all of the season, Mankins can always invite a certain underappreciated wideout over for a pity party.
OVER-THE-TOP, EPHEDRINE-LACED DIATRIBE BEFORE DAWN
Before I unleash the bitterness within and rail against the ridiculous rule that decided the Bears’ 19-14 victory over the Lions, I’d like to congratulate the victors and quarterback Jay Cutler(notes), who shook off his rough 2009 season and a pair of turnovers to throw a game-winning touchdown pass to Matt Forte(notes) with 1:32 remaining, and the losers and backup quarterback Shaun Hill(notes) who, for the second time in less than a year, had an apparent road comeback triumph snatched away by the football gods. You know, the way Calvin Johnson(notes) snatched Hill’s gorgeous 25-yard pass out of the air for a would-be touchdown with 24 seconds remaining. While maintaining control of the ball, Johnson landed in the end zone with, in succession, his right foot, left foot, butt and left elbow. Unfortunately for “Megatron,” he didn’t do the Hokey Pokey, which is about what it would have taken to satisfy the “second act” requirement of the NFL’s interpretation of what constitutes a catch: “If a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass (with or without contact by an opponent), he must maintain control of the ball after he touches the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone. If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, the pass is incomplete. If he regains control prior to the ball touching the ground, the pass is complete.” Remember, this is a league which also asks us to accept the counterintuitive concept that the ground cannot cause a fumble and to swallow the nonsensical tuck rule.
Two things drive me crazy about the seemingly correct but maddening interpretation of Johnson’s non-catch/catch: First, it exists in direct opposition to the principle that a touchdown occurs once the ball breaks the plane of the goal line. In those situations, we are asked to believe that all activity ceases upon the ball’s crossing of the plane in an offensive player’s grasp. Sometimes, this means that an offensive player will score after lunging near the goal line, only to have the ball swatted away and recovered by the opposing team. A touchdown can also occur when a player outside the boundaries of the playing field (but in the air and thus still technically inbounds) reaches the ball across the imaginary extension of the plane, essentially hitting pay dirt without the ball sniffing the vicinity of the actual end zone. We continually see some of the lamest plays in the world – a quarterback taking a snap and immediately thrusting the ball ahead of him like a kid taunting his little brother – and are asked to accept them as touchdown-worthy. Yet Johnson’s acrobatic catch on which he had clear possession of the football for more than a second, and while literally landing in the end zone? Nah, not a catch, because the ball hit the ground on the dismount. This brings me to my second complaint: As with the tuck rule, this doesn’t pass what I like to call the Playground Test: If, in a pickup game, you’d be uniformly shouted down for trying to apply a rules interpretation because it simply doesn’t mesh with our intuitive sense of football fairness, then the rule in question must be altered or abolished by the NFL’s competition committee. I hope this one bites the dust next March. In the meantime, my advice to any NFL receiver who finds himself in a situation like Johnson’s: Make the catch, pull the ball into your body and, after hitting the ground, stuff it into your uniform pants – just to make sure.
TEXT/IM/EMAIL/VOICEMAIL OF THE WEEK
"Knock any walls down lately? Have a great year. JG"
– Text Thursday evening from Jon Gruden, aka Harvey Wallbanger.
– Text Sunday evening from Hill, bemoaning the game-winning touchdown pass to Johnson that wasn't.
"The NFL is really taking this seriously!! … What a joke!! That hit Bradley took was bad & he had a major concussion! Every hit he took after that could have been a death blow & any neurologist would say the same. That is a [expletive] outrage that he was allowed back in the game! … If the NFL is serious about fixing this they should fine the Eagles big time for not following the guidelines of dealing with a concussion & that clearly was a bad one. If I can sit on my couch & see it, those doctors don't deserve to be on the sidelines!"
– Texts Sunday night from former NFL lineman Kyle Turley(notes), who has made his thoughts clear on the subject of concussions, reacting strongly to the Eagles' decision to allow Bradley and Kolb to reenter the game.
- Michael Vick