- Johnette Howard, ESPN.com columnist
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It's amazing how one game changes everything.
Before Monday night, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick was living a nice comeback story and improving all the time. After Monday night's 59-28 blitz of the Washington Redskins, Vick looks like the most irresistible force in football -- too fast to catch, too unpredictable to stop, just utterly unique.
When Vick plays like he did while passing for four touchdowns and running for two more, there's really no NFL quarterback who compares to him -- maybe ever. Just how great Vick played in Monday night's demolition of the Redskins is almost impossible to overstate.
Vick has been the talk of the NFL this week -- much like, you know, the streaking New York Giants were before 1-7 Dallas snapped their five-game winning streak last Sunday and much like the Giants can be again if they beat the Eagles on Sunday in Philadelphia. A win would shoot the Giants back to one game ahead of the Eagles in the NFC East, and, like we said, funny how just one game changes everything.
The Giants looked like Super Bowl contenders before the Cowboys defeat. Now the Eagles -- with one game -- have gone slingshoting by them. This week, anyway
"Yeah, but it seems like that's true in the entire NFL this year, not just the NFC, right?" says Giants linebacker Michael Boley, who played with Vick during the 2005 and 2006 seasons for Atlanta.
So how does Vick at age 30 now compare to the Vick whom Boley knew then?
Boley smiles as if what he's about to say is impossible, then laughs and says it anyway: "I think he's actually gotten faster."
In many ways, this would not seem to be the best time for the Giants to face Vick. Their defense was just torched for 33 points by Dallas and suddenly is trying to rediscover its pass rush. The Giants' offense now is down to two healthy veteran wideouts (Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham) and two end-of-the-roster fill-ins (rookie Duke Calhoun and Derek Hagan, who was out of the league when the Giants re-signed him this week).
The Giants' battered offensive line, which already has lost Pro Bowlers Shaun O'Hara and David Diehl to injury, took another hit Thursday when Shawn Andrews, Diehl's replacement at left tackle, reported a bad back himself.
Yet a lot of the Giants seemed chatty, upbeat and genuinely excited about the challenge of playing the Eagles on Sunday. Believe it or not, even Giants coach Tom Coughlin was -- are you sitting down? -- ripping off jokes Thursday. On purpose. Just one day after confessing that watching Vick's Monday night game on tape left him with a stomach ache.
It was as if when you combine a beautifully sunny, brisk autumn day with a Giants team that seems to have just pleased Coughlin during practice and the thought of a tough opponent ahead, why, Coughlin looked at all that Thursday and it was his idea of heaven.
Coughlin was asked whether he thought Andrews' current back troubles were related to his past chronic back troubles, and the coach smirked and said, "Whatever. You ever had a bad back? You don't want to get one." Was he concerned Andrews might not play? "That fact that you're standing on my grass [practice field] concerns me," Coughlin needled. Then: "Yes. Everything concerns me."
How concerned is he about stopping the Eagles' offense? "Is this your first day here?" Coughlin joked, turning to get a good look at the reporter who'd just asked this week's "Question That Won't Die."
(The sight of Coughlin's sense of humor breaking loose in the open field like that is almost as dizzying as Vick's scrambles. What has someone done with the other Coughlin? And when is he coming back?)
As much as the Giants have tried all week to remind everyone Vick is human and that he has been sacked 15 times already this season and that the Eagles, like the Giants, are 6-3, it was hard to miss the unmistakable admiration -- athlete to athlete -- that kept creeping in as the Giants talked about what a revelation Monday night's game provided about Vick. Even if everyone also already knew, and feared, that he had it in him.
As Boley put it, "He's finally becoming the quarterback that everyone thought he could be, that he was supposed to be. He's reading defenses and making plays with his feet."
It was just one game. But what a game for Vick. Even three days later, it remains mind-blowing in so many ways.
What everyone is waiting to see now -- starting Sunday -- is whether this is the Michael Vick who is here to stay. And whether Monday night's game was a level he can approximate a lot of the time now that he's beyond his run-first years in Atlanta and those nearly two years he spent in prison for running a dogfighting operation. He now has a season and a half in Eagles coach Andy Reid's system. Reid's mentoring of him shows.
Even Vick is curious to see what's next.
"You only dream about having those types of nights," Vick said of Monday's game. "It may never happen again. I may get close, but who knows?"
If he can remain even 85 percent that good, the Eagles aren't just Super Bowl contenders. They would be Super Bowl favorites. But if the Giants beat them Sunday and their top-ranked defense subdues Vick along the way? It's just one game. But everything changes again.
The Giants will have their hands full when they face Michael Vick.