Michael Vick was kept out of Sunday’s big win over the Giants due to injury. That injury may have finally united this Eagles team and taught them a valuable lesson: It takes more than a superstar to win.
In sports, teams tend to rely too much on superstars. When a big play is needed, players look to the guy with the endorsements and (often) the fat paycheck. That mentality can be detrimental to the overall development and psyche of a team. To no fault of the individual superstar, teams come to unconsciously depend on that one player.
But, when that superstar falls to injury, the rest of the team is forced to win on its own. Players stop looking for superman and focus on their own opportunities. The burden of winning is disbursed evenly throughout the entire roster. It’s a classic blessing in disguise scenario that has led many teams to titles.
Sunday felt like that kind of night for the Philadelphia Eagles. Without Michael Vick under center, there was no failsafe. No human highlight reel to bail the Eagles out of a hole. Every member of the team needed to excel on a consistent basis. And for the most part, they did.
The offensive line played perhaps its best game of the season against one of the NFL’s most vaunted pass rushes. We all know Vick can escape even the surest tackler, and the Philadelphia offensive line knows this better than anyone. It makes sense that may not hold a block as long when Vick is under center. Without Vick, though, the line appeared determined to give Vince Young as much time as possible, time we’ve rarely seen Vick have this season.
The receivers stepped up as well. Jason Avant had an amazing grab late in the 4th quarter to keep a drive alive, Steve Smith scored a touchdown, and Riley Cooper made a handful of big plays. DeSean Jackson even caught a couple of 1st down passes inside the hash marks and left Corey Webster in his rear view mirror on a critical 3rd down conversion late in the 4th quarter. Jackson also put the Eagles inside the 15 on a 51 yard punt return in the 2nd quarter. Sure, he had the boneheaded “look at me, I’m a star” moment he’s known for, but he had more of an impact on this game than any other this season. Maybe it’s just coincidence, maybe not, but Jackson never shies from the spotlight, and with Vick out, center stage was open for auditions. Naturally, Jackson stepped in.
The defense played its most impressive and physical game of the season as well. Without Vick, the defense had no margin for error. You can’t say enough about the defense bailing out Vince Young on all three of his interceptions. For a defense that has struggled all season to force punts following turnovers, keeping the Giants off the board following those interceptions was enormous. Not only was it the difference in the game, but possibly a huge momentum builder for the remainder of the season as well. Maybe something clicked this week for the defense. I don’t know. I wouldn’t hesitate to point to Vick’s absence as the rallying point, though. The unit took it upon themselves to win that game, and for the most part, they did.
The front seven bullied the Giants and swallowed up Brandon Jacobs and the running game. They pressured Eli Manning and consistently got off the field on 3rd down, forcing 9 punts. Two more than in any other game this season. Sure, things got hairy again in the 4th quarter when Nnamdi Asomugha surrendered a gigantic play for the 10th game in a row, but the defense eventually sealed the win with a big play at the biggest moment.
Speaking of big moments, the Eagles owe Sunday’s win to the defense and to Vince “Jeff Garcia” Young. There’s something to be said for guys that simply find a way to win. They may not win you all four quarters like a Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, but if you give them a puncher’s chance in the 4th, they’ll deliver. Tim Tebow has turned the NFL and its fans upside down by surviving until the 4th quarter and then dominating. Vince Young did it on Sunday night, thrashing the Giants on that 18 play drive with four 1st down completions, including the game winning touchdown pass. Let’s also not ignore the fact that Young was able to succeed where other Eagle quarterbacks have failed all season long.
That’s right, in all six of the their losses this season, the Eagle offense had an opportunity to either tie or win the game late in the 4th quarter. Against Atlanta, Mike Kafka’s game-winning drive fell short when Jeremy Maclin dropped an easy 1st down reception on 4th down. One week later, Kafka again failed when he threw an interception on his first attempt. After that, it was Vick who failed to deliver points against the 49ers (in fairness, it was Maclin who fumbled the drive away, not Vick). The next week it was Avant’s fumble/drop inside the ten as Vick was leading the Eagles on a game tying drive in Buffalo. And most recently, against both the Bears and Cardinals, Vick failed to lead the Eagles on game winning drives.
What Young did on Sunday should not be taken lightly. He accomplished what Vick and the rest of the offense had failed to do six times before. And even though Howard Eskin told me via Twitter that I was going too far, I will continue to call Vince Young, “2006 Jeff Garcia.”
Hot Seat Reid
Let’s rewind a week to the Philadelphia media and fans wanting Andy Reid fired. I reviewed the situation extensively last week, so I’ll be relatively brief here, but one thing I forgot to mention is how respected Reid is by former players and even current players around the league. Most of them laugh when asked whether Reid should be fired or not. They refer to him as a great coach while using adjectives like “phenomenal,” and phrases like “players love playing for him.” As we all know, there’s a fraternity that exists among players, both past and present. If it’s common knowledge in that fraternity that Reid is an excellent coach, it makes even more sense for the Eagles to keep him around another year to work this new team into form. If we learned anything from Sunday night’s victory, it’s that Reid still has this team’s ear. They play for him. They respect him. They want to win for him.
Reid, like his team, had a nice game, too. Aside from the 3rd quarter fade to Riley Cooper that was intercepted, I had no qualms with Reid’s play calling or approach. (The fade made no sense because it’s a route that requires accuracy. To that point, Young had proven his accuracy was off. In a 10-3 game where defenses were controlling the tempo, the Eagles needed to come away with at least three points there. Considering they already had a touchdown advantage, Reid should have been more conservative and protected the three points the Eagles probably would have gotten had Young not thrown the INT.) Reid stayed committed to the running game despite its ineffectiveness. Yes, the box score will show the Eagles ran for 136 yards at just over four yards per carry, but that includes McCoy’s 60 yard scamper when the game had already been decided. Excluding the final victory formation drive, the Eagles really only rushed for 64 yards on 25 carriers for a paltry 2.5 yards per carry. But you know what? Reid stuck with it. LeSean McCoy had 11 rushes in the first half and twelve in the second (two on the final drive). In the second half alone, Reid maintained a 44:56 run pass ratio. Of course, such a variation in Reid’s approach can be attributed to the Vick injury, but Reid deserves credit nonetheless. He did what was necessary to keep the Giant defense honest and protect Young. He also did a fantastic job of allowing Vince Young to work himself into the game.
Reid could have easily tightened the leash on Young after those early interceptions. Doing so would have only made the New York defense more vicious, though. Instead, Reid continued to let Young work the ball downfield and into tight spaces across the middle. Did my heart stop whenever the ball left Young’s hand, especially on those crucial 4th quarter 3rd downs? Absolutely. But Reid never wavered. He believed in his quarterback and trusted the offense to come through. That’s why his players love him. For better or worse, Reid goes down swinging with the guys he has on the field.
Playoff Possibility Update
The Jay Cutler injury may have appeared to be a nice break (no pun intended) for the Eagles, but as I mentioned in the Week 11 recap, it’s unlikely the Bears drop to 9-7, even without Cutler. Right now, the Eagles best shot remains the division. They still need a loss from Dallas and two from New York in addition to finishing 6-0. With a defensive performance like the one they got Sunday night, it’s not as impossible as it seemed a week ago.