Kevin Kolb or Michael Vick? One game into the season, the Philadelphia Eagles face quarterback quandary

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 14, 2010; 11:27 PM

The Philadelphia Eagles had a plan when they traded Donovan McNabb to the Washington Redskins in April. Kevin Kolb would take over for McNabb at quarterback, giving the Eagles a young player at the position to go with second-year tailback LeSean McCoy and emerging wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin.

It took exactly one game for that plan to begin to unravel.

Just before McNabb helped the Redskins to a season-opening triumph Sunday night over the Dallas Cowboys at FedEx Field, things went far less smoothly for Kolb and the Eagles up I-95. A quarterback controversy may have developed during their 27-20 loss to the Green Bay Packers at Lincoln Financial Field, when Kolb played poorly and left the game with a concussion and Michael Vick took over, nearly crafting a second-half comeback.

Eagles Coach Andy Reid is doing his best to squelch the notion that Vick has a chance to take the starting job from Kolb, even if Kolb is sidelined this week and Vick makes a fill-in start in Detroit on Sunday. Reid said after the Packers game that Kolb remains the Eagles' starter when healthy, and reiterated that stance Monday.

"Well, let me say it again," Reid said at a news conference Monday. "I know I'm using poor English. Kevin Kolb is the number one quarterback."

Reid's problem is that no one seems to be listening. Sports columnists for the Philadelphia newspapers already are suggesting that Vick be given a chance to start, and the topic is being debated on television and radio talk shows and on Internet message boards. Unfortunately for Reid, NFL coaches don't get to declare when a quarterback controversy does or does not exist. Once the issue becomes the talk of a town, a coach has a quarterback controversy on his hands, whether he wants one or not.

During Reid's tenure as coach, the Eagles have prided themselves on avoiding rash decisions and knee-jerk reactions. Reid drafted McNabb in 1999 to a chorus of boos from Eagles fans who wanted to see the club take running back Ricky Williams. Reid stuck with McNabb as his quarterback even when there was strong sentiment in Philadelphia for a change.

When Reid benched McNabb for one half in a 2008 game, he went right back to him as the starter the following week. Reid's reward was five appearances in NFC title games in 11 seasons with McNabb.

So it seems unlikely now that Reid will abandon his plan for Kolb so quickly and make an early-season switch. But, at least for this week, there might not be a decision for Reid to make. Kolb will undergo a series of concussion-related tests, and must be cleared by an independent neurologist before he plays in another game. He is not expected to practice before Friday at the soonest. If Kolb is sidelined, Vick would be in line to make his first start at quarterback since he was with the Atlanta Falcons during the 2006 season.

On Sunday, Vick resembled the dynamic player he was during his Falcons days. He ran for 103 yards and passed for 175, and nearly rallied the Eagles from a 27-10 deficit.

Vick has said he believes he can be a starting quarterback in the NFL again. And for perhaps the first time since he signed with the Eagles before last season, after missing two NFL seasons while serving a federal sentence for his role in a Virginia dogfighting operation, it is beginning to appear that he might be right. He spent last season playing in spot duty and running the Eagles' version of the Wildcat offense, and was penciled in for similar duties this season behind Kolb.

Vick said after the game Sunday that he "had the old feel back."

He also said: "I still feel like I can play at a high level. I feel like if I had been out there for four quarters, maybe we would have had a chance to win the game. But it's all hindsight now. I feel like I'm 25 or 26 again, even though that's not the case. I'm not naive to the fact that I am 30. But it's good to leave the game feeling good after taking a couple hits. . . . I'm excited and I'm happy. I'm upset that we lost, though."

Vick and Reid both said later that Vick's comment about having a chance to win the game if he'd played all four quarters wasn't intended as a knock on Kolb. Reid said he was happy for Vick.

"I don't want to slight Michael Vick one bit because I'm very proud of the things that he did in there," Reid said Monday. "He did a heck of a job and he did a lot of it with his feet. . . . He's come a long way from where he was when he first got here. But again, Kevin's the guy."

Eagles players said they weren't shocked by what they saw from Vick against the Packers.

"He's Michael Vick," McCoy said. "It's not like we're surprised."

But this was to be Kolb's team, and Eagles players said they haven't given up on him.

"I feel bad for the guy," Maclin said. "He was more excited than anybody to go out there and play. Nobody wants to compare him to McNabb. But he wants to come out and prove that he's the guy and he's going to take us where we need to go. We still have faith in him. Hopefully he can get healthy and ready."

The empathy extended to Sunday's opposing quarterback. The Packers' Aaron Rodgers, who had the task of succeeding Brett Favre in Green Bay, said he's rooting for Kolb to succeed and has offered advice to Kolb.

"You want to see guys coming up and playing well," Rodgers said Sunday.

Whichever quarterback leads the offense will have to get by without two starters, fullback Leonard Weaver and center Jamaal Jackson, who suffered season-ending injuries during the opener.

Things certainly aren't going as scripted so far. But as veteran cornerback Ellis Hobbs said in the Eagles' postgame locker room Sunday: "This is an unforgiving league. No one cares [about the Eagles' problems]. We have to find a way."

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