LANDOVER, Md. – This is unprecedented, really – a thought too preposterous for even a movie. How can Michael Vick(notes) walk from prison back into the NFL and become the best player in the league two years after wondering if he would ever play again?
He is the MVP right now, the one who can take the Philadelphia Eagles to heights they are probably not otherwise gifted enough to achieve. Philip Rivers(notes) might be having a fantastic season in San Diego, but there has been nothing like what Vick is doing in Philadelphia. And never has a quarterback been as brilliant as Vick was on Monday, where almost every pass he threw was perfect, where he ran through tackles and plunged into the end zone and where he finished with 413 total yards and six touchdowns.
And where he stood behind a microphone in an interview room and stared dumbfounded at a question that, given the moment, seemed wholly appropriate.
Did you think this is what it would be like when you came back to the NFL?
For a few seconds he didn’t speak.
“No,” Vick finally said. “I could never have envisioned this.”
Who would? From the moment he walked out of Levenworth Penitentiary saying he was a changed man, it was obvious he was going to get another shot at professional football. Talent is too hard to find in a league like this. Even men who tortured animals in ways too horrible to process get a second chance if they are fast and can throw a ball. But Vick was always such an undisciplined player before, a coach killer as Jim Mora Sr. once said. Prison might have made him a better person but how could it have made him a better quarterback?
That the Eagles have made him something more – an efficient passer two parts imaginative and one part controlled in the confines of a deliberate offense – is remarkable.
Early Tuesday morning, Philadelphia’s offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, the man who reprogrammed Vick, smiled and said, “He’s playing the quarterback position very well.”
Then he added, “There’s a difference between that and just being a quarterback,”
In the past Vick was great because he was fast and he had a powerful arm and he relied on both of these skills to take him to NFL stardom. But there was an understanding of the game he never appeared to learn. He never seemed to grasp leadership. He never knew how to make his gifts work within a system rather than outside. Before he made plays. Now he leads a team.
Something different is going on here. Something more than your typical athlete reclamation story. It is noticeable in the way the Eagles respond to him, the way he inspires them and makes them play with a frenzy they’ve never had before.
On Monday night, Redskins strong safety LaRon Landry(notes) foolishly challenged the Eagles. He shouted toward them as they moved off the field from the pregame warmups and into their locker room. He screamed at Jackson, the Eagles' top receiver. Things were said. Players pushed. Vick was in the middle, not shrinking away as quarterbacks often do in scrums like this – better to leave the tussles to the other players.
The Eagles shouted at Landry knowing their first play of the night had been scripted all week. Vick was going to run to the side, look downfield and fire a long pass to Jackson. The defender they targeted was Landry.
Inside the locker room in those few minutes after the confrontation with the Redskins and before they went back out for the game, the Eagles were outraged. Players yelled to each other. They slapped the walls of their lockers. They pushed each other, smacking pads with open palms. They screamed they had been “disrespected.” They wanted revenge. They wanted that first play to work as well as any first play they had ever run.
Vick smiled. He told them it would work.
Then he leaned back and fired a perfect spiral into the stadium lights. The ball landed perfectly in Jackson’s hands. Landry lunged to make a tackle. He missed. Then Jackson ran untouched into the end zone.
Yes, there is something different Vick has brought and it’s more than the touchdowns and the yards. It’s a confidence, a belief, a sense he has been somewhere awful and has come back and if he can do that so can his team.
“Everyone’s pulling for him, we want him to succeed” Eagles safety Quintin Mikell(notes) said. “When you have someone trying to put his life together, it makes you want to respond to him more and support him more.”
They have. He’s taken them to a 6-3 start, which is much better than these Eagles were supposed to be. He’s decimated defenses and made good players miss him as he rockets past. He’s the MVP no matter who has more yards or touchdowns, mainly because he makes the Eagles play at a level higher than they should.
This is remarkable if you think about it – from prison to the best player in the league.
Monday night was supposed to be about the Eagles' quarterback from the past decade. Before the game all the questions were about Donovan McNabb(notes) and the extension the Redskins gave him just two weeks after coach Mike Shanahan benched him inside the final two minutes of a game against Detroit. Then Vick fired a ball into the sky, into DeSean Jackson’s hands.
And the night, like this season, was going to be his.