By Michael Wilbon
Wednesday, September 29, 2010; 1:41 AM
The biggest lie a coach can tell is that a man cannot lose his job to injury. Of course he can. It's how history dumped Wally Pipp and gave us Lou Gehrig on the occasion of Pipp's headache. And it's the vehicle, however unfortunate for Kevin Kolb, for reintroducing us to Michael Vick.
You can continue to resent Vick for his brutality. You can forever root against him for his criminal behavior. You can decry the second chance the NFL has given him. But Vick's return to elite status as a football player, at least through three weeks, is undeniable. At the moment, he's the MVP of the NFL and the league's most curious story. Three weeks is a pretty small sample size, but the real shocker is that Vick looks like he might finally, in his second act, be evolving into the kind of professional quarterback folks dreamed 10 years ago he would become.
See Vick run. See Vick throw. See Vick throw on the move. See Vick throw accurately on the move. See Vick hold on to the ball. See Vick make better football decisions than he has ever made in his career. The Washington Redskins likely will see more of all the above than they want to see Sunday in Philly, especially because the Redskins have no game-changing offensive player and Vick is playing with at least three.
Certainly, Vick is making the most of it. Only Peyton Manning and Jay Cutler have a passer rating higher than Vick's 110.2 through three weeks. You know who has a yards-per-rush average better than Vick's 7.4? Nobody. Yet, Vick has thrown for 250 yards a game, which is considerably higher than his career best 195.7 back in 2002. After averaging a dozen fumbles a year in 2004, 2005 and 2006 Vick has thrown no picks and lost no fumbles so far.
There appears to be a purpose and an urgency with which Vick is playing and conducting himself that wasn't evident during his years in Atlanta. Maybe it's turning 30; maybe it's being convicted of a felony; maybe it's being incarcerated; maybe it's finally realizing that he didn't have all the answers. Maybe it's hooking up with coaches who are as sophisticated in the passing game as Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg. Vick was never the most dedicated member of the quarterback fraternity. Maybe all of the above and other factors led Vick to take his craft a lot more seriously than he used to.
Coach Andy Reid said, "About his study habits; he's really cranked down on those and we have to kind of kick him out of the building here. He's here all the time and that's a good thing. I don't know if that's the way it was always in his career . . . And then, he has some pretty good receivers to throw to . . . I'm not saying he didn't in Atlanta, but I'm saying here he has some pretty good receivers that know the game and he can put it out there and they can go get it."
The most amazing part of Vick's performance to this point is that he actually appears to trust that throwing the ball to those receivers is preferable to running with it. All this ought to scare the daylights out of the Redskins' defense, which has to figure out how to not only deal with Vick, but with running back LeSean McCoy, whose 6.1 yards per rush rank him third in the league, defense-wrecking wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, who caught two touchdown passes last week and already has four this season.
Funny thing is, McNabb was the person who agitated to draft some game-breakers and, for that matter, to sign Vick a year ago to be a backup quarterback. Now, McNabb is in Washington, again with no such help at the skill positions.
The Redskins' running back position is a complete disaster. Clinton Portis is 28th in the league in rushing and is averaging 3.7 yards per carry. The receivers are either old or completely unproductive. While the Eagles have drafted Jackson, McCoy and Maclin, the Redskins have drafted Malcolm Kelly, Devin Thomas and Fred Davis, who individually and collectively have done zilch. They've flat-lined.
In fact, the completely disheartening news for the Redskins is they don't have a single defense-wrecking player, an early-20-something player who can keep a defensive coordinator awake all night and frightened all Sunday afternoon. Think about it; the Eagles have Jackson, McCoy and Maclin. The Cowboys have Dez Bryant and Miles Austin. The Texans have Andre Johnson and Arian Foster. The Bears have Devin Hester, Johnny Knox and Matt Forte. The Cardinals have Larry Fitzgerald and Tim Hightower. The Chiefs are off to a 3-0 start largely because Jamaal Charles is averaging seven yards per rush.
You can go around the league and just about every team has more potent offensive weapons than the Redskins, which is an indictment of their draft and recent free agent activity. Perhaps if management wasn't so obsessed with Albert Haynesworth somebody might have put more effort into acquiring somebody to help McNabb on offense.
I'd totally understand if McNabb looked across the sideline Sunday and broke into a jealous rage at all the players Vick has at his disposal. And remember, there's Vick himself, who's back to being the dual threat he was at his best in Atlanta.
Some of the same folks are thrilled that Vick seems both willing and able to make a play with his arm, even when desperate, to gain an advantage for his team. No, Vick hasn't yet demonstrated the greatest touch on short passes. He hasn't had to rally a team from a big deficit. Defenses, still surprised to see him, haven't figured out how to take him out of his comfort zones, but they will.
Still, Vick right now is better than Kolb, healthy or injured. He has played better than just about any quarterback in the league, maybe any player at any position in the league. Doing something to stop him is the Redskins next challenge and for the rest of us a delight to watch. And if another man's misfortune allows Vick the opportunity to show just how good he can be, well, that's football.