In Week 3 of the 2009 NFL exhibition season, the Philadelphia Eagles visited the Jacksonville Jaguars. The third game is typically when starters play most of their minutes. This is the one pre-season game that is usually worth watching, even if your principal interest isn’t with the competition for the final linebacker spot on the roster. The game was physical, hard fought, and sloppy. It was typical. The Eagles would eventually win, 33-32.The story of the game, however, was not the minutes played by starters or the final score. The story of the game was the debut of Michael Vick and the use of the so-called “Wildcat” formation.
Vick’s return overshadowed a somewhat sloppy effort by an Eagles team that has Super Bowl aspirations.
It was Vick and only Vick who captured fans’ attention — whether he was on the field, on the sideline or sitting on the bench.
“Everything he was asked to do, he did it well,” Donovan McNabb said.
Eagles coach Andy Reid didn’t wait long to use Vick. The three-time Pro Bowl quarterback jogged onto the field for the second play from scrimmage and got a hearty welcome from the notoriously tough Philly fans.
“It was awesome. When I was running out onto the field I was listening to see what the reaction was going to be,” Vick said. “I was very pleased. I really didn’t expect that reaction, but I was very thankful.”
So much for all those protesters and anti-Vick factions. Some fans even chanted “We want Vick!” after he left the game.
Vick was on the field for six plays — all in the opening 18 minutes — and completed all four of his passes, ran for 1 yard and lined up in the slot for one play.
After the game, the story became Donovan McNabb’s criticism of the use of the formation. Many viewers, bloggers and media types have extrapolated that specific criticism of Eagle tactics to a general and personal criticism of Michael Vick. It is a little perplexing that a quarterback who has been routinely subjected to the most vile degree of criticism for a decade would go out of his way to advocate for the Eagles to obtain Michael Vick, then turn 180 degrees in a pre-season game.
Is it possible that in all of his enthusiasm to help a fallen comrade, McNabb never thought about how Vick would be used? Is it simply that since it was Week 3 and he was seeing his first significant time on the field, he wanted to establish his rhythm before giving way to this “noble experiment.”
Listen to what Jeff Garcia said yesterday, in defense of another QB seeing his first significant time as a starter facing heated competition:
Philadelphia ran nine plays out of the wildcat formation. Jackson, Westbrook and Jeremy Maclin took snaps. The Eagles gained 44 yards on seven runs and had two incomplete passes.
“I understand why they did it, but it never allowed [Kolb] to get in rhythm,” Garcia said. “It’s a tough game to call. You have to have some trust and I know the coaches trust him. Just go out and play football the way we’re used to playing.”
Maybe the obvious answer is the correct answer. Maybe McNabb is not a schizophrenic who actively advocates for Vick, while quietly trying to undermine him. Maybe Garcia is trying to poison the well for Vick’s entrance next week by attacking the use of the “Wildcat.” Maybe Garcia has an ax to grind with Michael Vick. Maybe he just likes Kevin Kolb. Or maybe it’s not of that — maybe, just maybe, QB’s do not like being replaced in the middle of a drive so that the offensive coordinator can run a gimmicky set of plays that worked once when run by Ronnie Brown in Miami against an old New England Patriots defense.
Maybe that’s it.