Vick set up Jackson’s miracle at Meadowlands

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – He would not let the Philadelphia Eagles die. Not this easy, not this day.

They stood in the offensive huddle with the scoreboard so far against them it was ridiculous to contemplate victory. Eight minutes remained on a three-touchdown New York Giants vanquishing of them. And there was Michael Vick(notes) shouting through the New Meadowlands Stadium din.

“Hey listen!” he screamed. “No matter how much we are down we will never quit.”

His eyes were urgent, his teammates recalled, but his demeanor calm.

“We will not quit!” he yelled again.

If by now people don’t understand what Vick has brought to the Eagles in this season of his revival it was alive in those final 8:17 on Sunday afternoon. He is forcing himself to play at a level that is different than everyone else. Even when nothing seems to work, when the Giants knocked him to the ground countless times, leaving him to limp to the bench, he managed to pull the Eagles together and make football seem easy all over again.

DeSean Jackson(notes) might get the headlines and the highlights for taking back a punt as time ran out, dancing along the goal line, then slipping in for the score to beat the Giants 38-31, but the comeback was Vick’s. Just as the season has been Vick’s, like the division championship Philadelphia can clinch next week is Vick’s, too. Tom Brady(notes) is having an MVP season but no player has raised his team this year more than Vick.

It is easy to hate him for what happened in the past and surely many of the Philadelphia players probably did. But in their halftime locker room, with the Giants dominating and the Eagles disheveled, it was Vick who moved about the room telling the players that they were going to come back, that they were going to win the game.

And it was an odd locker room atmosphere for a team down by 21 points, many of the players said. The mood was strangely positive given the pummeling they were taking. After Vick went through the room, players suddenly talked about turning the game around.

It was Vick who drove them to do this, they said. All Vick.

“He has so much character,” center Mike McGlynn(notes) said.

This is, of course, hard for many people to understand. Character is a rare word that has come up with Vick since April of 2007 when the first hints of dogfighting bubbled to the surface. Character is often not mentioned with someone who spent 18 months in a federal penitentiary. But the Eagles have come to find it an unlikely source. They know he is the biggest reason they are 10-4 and the NFC favorite for the Super Bowl, no matter how dazzling Atlanta’s record appears.

The Giants brought everything at Vick on Sunday. This was their plan: overwhelm the offensive line, break through the blocks and clobber the running quarterback. Vick is not a big man by football standards – just 6-feet tall and 215 pounds. And their thinking was they could bang into him and knock him to the ground so much they could drive him from the game – or at least weaken his will.

They guessed wrong.

Michael Vick took a pounding from the Giants, but pulled off a 21-point rally in the fourth quarter.
(Al Bello/Getty Images)

“I’ll tell you what, Mike’s a tough guy, he’s not going to break down,” McGlynn said. “He’s got that heart that no one else has. No matter how many times he got hit he never pointed fingers at anyone.”

McGlynn laughed.

“A lot of quarterbacks shrivel up and get scared and basically quit.”

He shook his head.

“Not Mike,” he said.

One time Vick hobbled to the bench, to be surrounded by a team of trainers who looked him over then walked away. Another time a team manager grabbed his helmet appearing to adjust it after yet another pounding. Yet none of that seemed to matter with Philadelphia down by those three scores in the fourth quarter. Vick had barely been an impact in the first three quarters. Then there he was firing passes across the field.

First came the 65-yard touchdown pass to Brent Celek(notes) that cut the score to 31-17. Then after the onside kick came the 4-yard run for the second score and the 13-yard pass to Jeremy Maclin(notes) for the final touchdown – the one that tied the game only 1:16 before the Giants stalled and had to make that fateful punt to Jackson with just :09 remaining. And the player who looked barely able to walk in the first half was more elusive than anyone.

“I think he played the quarterback position very well that last quarter and a half,” said Marty Mornhinweg, the Eagles offensive coordinator. “If you just start scattering it doesn’t work.”

Then Mornhinweg, who inherited the rough but gifted player who walked out of prison and onto the Philadelphia roster in the summer of 2009, said an interesting thing.

“I’ve come to expect it – him playing at a high level.” Mornhinweg said.

And who thought a coach would ever say this?

Behind in the locker room, Vick dressed quickly, pulling on sweatpants and a sweatshirt, dangling a long crucifix around his neck.

“I’m living in the moment,” said the best thing to happen to the Philadelphia Eagles this year.

Les Carpenter is a feature writer and columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Les a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Sunday, Dec 19, 2010