Commentary

For Vick, a modest return to the game

Originally Published: September 27, 2009
By Jeffri Chadiha | ESPN.com

PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles should be pleased with the results of Michael Vick's appearance in Sunday's 34-14 win over the Kansas City Chiefs. There were no outrageous protests by the fans who still hate Vick for his involvement in an illegal dogfighting ring two years ago. Vick also played just enough to regain a feel for regular-season action without disrupting the overall flow of the Eagles' offense. In a game that was ugly and one-sided from the start, Vick found a way to get exactly what he needed out of the contest.

This is why Vick's first game in the NFL since serving a 23-month federal prison sentence for the dogfighting charges and a two-game suspension imposed by league commissioner Roger Goodell had to be considered a success. There were plenty of things that could've gone wrong for him, but he left Lincoln Financial Field smiling, and with good reason. Vick finally had played in a real game again, an outcome that seemed very unlikely when he went to jail. Now the hard part was over; he could focus all his attention on simply improving his craft.

Numbers couldn't measure Vick's success in this game (he produced only 7 yards on one rushing attempt). It was the less noticeable things, such as how he handled his anxiety and avoided putting too much pressure on himself, that were important.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous [when the game started]," said Vick, who also didn't complete either of the two passes he threw. "I usually don't get nervous, but there were some butterflies. The good thing is that I was able to settle down and relax."

The smartest move Eagles coach Andy Reid made with Vick was to insert him into the game as soon as possible. The Eagles had run one offensive play when Vick trotted onto the field and lined up at wide receiver a few moments later. The play call wasn't anything exotic, either. Just a simple handoff from quarterback Kevin Kolb to LeSean McCoy as Vick faked as if he was going to run a reverse.

The good thing about that play was that Vick got to see how Eagles fans would treat him. For all the chatter on talk radio and all the bluster on the Internet over the past two months, this was the only place where he could really gauge the fans' expectations of him. What they gave him was light, encouraging applause, devoid of any discernible boos. That should've been plenty of evidence that Vick had found a city willing to give him a fair shot at redemption.

From that point on, Vick really didn't do anything else to excite the locals. He participated in 11 plays, most of which involved him running the Wildcat or the more traditional version of the spread formation. He usually handed off -- though he had a run-pass option in the Wildcat -- and his lone glaring mistake was an errant pass to a wide-open Jason Avant on a crossing pattern. Aside from those moments, Vick was just another player trying to fit into the Eagles' offense.

That, by the way, is exactly how Reid wanted to treat him.

"We wanted to get him in there and gradually get him into the speed of the game," Reid said. "We wanted to knock some rust off and I think we accomplished that."

Added Vick: "This is a different situation but I just told myself that I have to be even-keeled so I can go out and play within the framework of the offense. It's a different role but it is what it is."

The Eagles also had to be happy about Vick's day because it allowed them to experiment with his role without facing much drama. The first time they put Vick on a football field -- in a preseason win over Jacksonville -- starting quarterback Donovan McNabb voiced his concerns over the offense losing its rhythm while coaches toyed with Vick's possibilities. This time around, Kolb had no problems with Vick shuttling in and out of the game. Kolb threw for 327 yards and two touchdowns while rarely showing any concerns for the Chiefs' defensive strategies.

Now the Eagles might take a different approach to Vick once McNabb returns from a fractured rib that has sidelined him for the past two games. But at least Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg have seen how a defense might attack the Wildcat with Vick at the controls. They also didn't have to show many of their own ideas Sunday.

"That was a small part [of what the Eagles can do in the Wildcat]," Vick said. "We just wanted to get a feel for their looks."

Because the Eagles have that information, it will be interesting to see how they handle Vick in the coming weeks. For one thing, they have plenty of other playmakers who deserve the ball more than he does at this stage. Even with star running back Brian Westbrook sidelined with an ankle injury, the Eagles got strong performances from McCoy (84 rushing yards, one touchdown), DeSean Jackson (149 receiving yards, one touchdown) and tight end Brent Celek (104 yards, one touchdown). As Chiefs coach Todd Haley said, "They've got some weapons and they look like they use them well."

Vick also will benefit from the Eagles' upcoming bye week. He'll have more opportunity to study the playbook and his coaches will have more time to determine how best to use him. What Vick won't have to worry about, however, is the anticipation that had been building in him since Philadelphia signed him two months ago. He has stepped back into real action and he saw that the game was still manageable.

In fact, Vick spent the national anthem thinking about his grandmother, Caletha Vick, who died while he was in prison.

"I said, 'I made it back, Grandma,'" Vick said of his thoughts before the contest. "'And I won't let you down this time.'"

It was a vow that nobody inside Lincoln Financial Field could've heard before Sunday's game kicked off. But by the time Vick had left the stadium, it was quite obvious that he'd had a good start at accomplishing that goal.

Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.