Michael Vick got the green light for full reinstatement in the NFL on Thursday when commissioner Roger Goodell said the disgraced quarterback could play later this month instead of waiting until October.
Vick, recently signed by the Philadelphia Eagles, will now be able to play in the Sept. 27 game at home against the Kansas City Chiefs. It would be his first regular-season game since he was sent to prison for his role in operating a dogfighting ring.
"I've been doing everything I could, just trying to do all the right things and make sure I just stay on course," Vick said. "I'm happy with the decision."
Goodell and Vick met Thursday morning for 45 to 50 minutes in New Jersey to discuss when Vick might be reinstated. After that, Goodell said, he consulted with Vick's mentor, former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy, for another 45 minutes.
"Hopefully we can have a success story here, which would be good for society in general," Goodell said. "He's realistic about the challenges ahead. And anxious to play football."
Philadelphia lost to the Jets 38-27 in an exhibition game at the Meadowlands Thursday night. Vick ran for a 2-yard touchdown, but was sacked four times, lost a fumble and was intercepted.
Vick was in and out of the lineup in the opening half, and was booed each time he ran onto the field. He lined up at quarterback and wide receiver at times, and scored his first NFL touchdown since 2006 to give the Eagles a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter. Vick lined up at quarterback, faked a handoff and ran up the middle from 2 yards 25 seconds into the quarter.
Vick was released from federal custody July 20 after serving 18 months of a 23-month prison sentence for his role in running a dogfighting ring in Virginia. Previously, Goodell said he would consider Vick for full reinstatement by no later than Week 6.
During their meeting Thursday at the Eagles' hotel near Newark International Airport, the topic of Vick's past experiences and why he got involved in dogfighting came up. One of Vick's representatives was explaining it, when Vick stepped in and took responsibility. "He was genuinely remorseful," Goodell said.
"I've been trying to show him that I'm moving in the right direction," Vick said of Goodell. "I'm changing my life for the better."
Goodell said he discussed with Vick the report that he was seen drinking an alcoholic beverage in a restaurant at the hotel where he was staying. Goodell said it was not a violation of his probation.
"It highlights the tremendous microscope this man is under," Goodell said. "He understands he has little margin for error. It served as a useful lesson."
"He [Goodell] met with Michael this morning and I think he came out of it feeling very confident that Michael's doing the right things and is on the right track," Eagles president Joe Banner said before the game.
"I think Michael wants to play as soon as he can. On the other hand, I think he thinks this was fair."
A three-time Pro Bowl pick during six seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, Vick was a surprise signing by the Eagles on Aug. 13. He received a one-year deal for $1.6 million with a team option for a second year at $5.2 million.
Vick started practicing with the Eagles on Aug. 15, but did not travel with the team to its second preseason game a week later in Indianapolis because he could not play.
He played six snaps in Philadelphia's home game against Jacksonville last week, lining up at quarterback and receiver. He completed all four of his pass attempts, but the Eagles' offense scored just three points in the possessions he played.
"We thought that if Michael did the right things, somewhere -- probably one to three weeks -- would be the likely outcome. So this is certainly in the range we expected," Banner said. "We appreciate the commissioner's thoughtfulness and I think this is a good outcome and we look forward to having him."
Coach Andy Reid was also present at Goodell's meeting with Vick.
"He definitely provided me with useful feedback," Goodell said. "He's very open about the challenges, you know, from his own personal experiences."
Reid's two sons have been jailed on drug charges.
"He told me how Michael's doing and how he's incorporating into the team and the judgments he's making," Goodell said.
"As far as Michael's situation goes," Reid said, "the two-game suspension by the commissioner, we obviously respect his decision 100 percent and support it."
The Eagles plan to use Vick in their version of the Wildcat offense, and Reid has stated that Kevin Kolb remains the backup to Donovan McNabb.
Vick's familiarity with the West Coast offense has expedited his learning process with Philadelphia. He's said he's content doing whatever he can to help the team win and wants to learn from McNabb how to become a better quarterback.
"I still think I'm a couple of weeks away," Vick said after the game. "I can use this time to get myself in shape, build my endurance, continue to strengthen my legs and continue to work my mind with the offense."
Although McNabb is an excellent scrambler, he prefers being a pocket passer. Vick always has been far more inclined to take off and run than stay in the pocket and find an open receiver. His career completion percentage is only 53.8 percent, and he has more career 100-yard rushing games (8) than 250-yard passing games. Vick has 71 career touchdown passes, but 52 interceptions.
The Eagles were heavily criticized by animal rights activists for signing Vick, and dozens of protesters voiced their outrage outside the team's practice facility the day after he signed.
But the explosive debate that consumed the city upon Vick's arrival played out on a much smaller and subdued scale when Vick made his Eagles debut at Lincoln Financial Field.
An animal welfare event was held across town, and the local NAACP's planned march outside the stadium to support Vick did not materialize, although about a dozen members set up a table with banners supporting him.
Local animal rights activists have opted not to protest the player, but to use Vick's arrival in Philadelphia to spotlight their work and have asked the Eagles to support them.
The team has been receptive, inviting several groups to a meeting at their practice facility a few days before Vick played to discuss ways to help, including the possibility of financial support.
Information from ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter and The Associated Press was used in this report.