Michael Vick sets out in Week 10 to lead his 3-5 Philadelphia Eagles in a Desperation Bowl of sorts against the 3-5 Dallas Cowboys (4:25 p.m. ET on FOX). The bitter NFC East rivals attempt to avoid a loss that will surely mean the death of any remaining playoff hopes.
A defeat might also cost embattled Eagles head coach Andy Reid and/or Cowboys coach Jason Garrett a job. Those two head coaches must have fannies on fire from the hot seats they constantly seem to occupy. Sorry for that visual.
While all that drama plays out, Vick faces the here and now behind an achy, shaky offensive line.
The day before kickoff, I stick a digital recorder near Michael Vick’s face at the Eagles practice facility.
It’s a reliable tool, that digital recorder, especially if you remember to hit the record button. But what the doodad doesn’t record is how often the weary Vick shakes his head. He did it a lot Saturday.
The 32-year-old QB faces the scary prospect of playing behind a patchwork offensive line. It’s a line with only one original starter, guard Evan Mathis, remaining from a spate of injuries that have claimed player after player.
The unit’s leader, right tackle Todd Herremans, is the latest starting offensive lineman to go down. Herremans, who protected the left-hander Vick’s blind side, went on injured reserve this week after sustaining an ankle injury in the Week 9 loss to the Saints. That news thrust the already decimated O-line into further chaos.
When I talked to Vick about his approach heading into this critical division game against the Cowboys, his seemingly involuntary habit of head shaking began. What the heck is going on his mind?
"How do you not be jittery?” I asked him. By the way, anybody who knows me knows I don’t say “heck.”
“Just keep believing in the system — believing in what we do,” Vick said. “The worst you can do is think negative. You don’t block it out . . . you have to be conscious of it just so you can react.”
Vick has been hit and sacked to a point that it’s painful to watch. Even when you’re a neutral party you’re tempted to scream: “For the love of Pete, man, duck!”
He suffered through seven (avert-your-eyes type) sacks in Monday night’s loss to the Saints in New Orleans. Vick’s been captured on 27 dropbacks this season and brought to the ground countless other times by hungry defenders.
But with his hands full this week, Vick is worried about his feet. He said he can’t let his feet get jittery.
From what I know about a QB with jittery feet, those suckers can lead to bad mechanics. Also known as "happy feet," those kind dance instead of plant. And bad footwork can mean bad throws. Bad throws can mean picks, and Vick has tossed nine of those already this season.
It’s gotta be nerve racking, but he’s not letting on. Imagine the very scary proposition of trying to do his job as mistake-free as possible, while playing behind an offensive line Scotch-taped together.
Herremans, the unit’s leader, is now on IR.
Then consider that a Dallas defense known for its blitz-happy style will be waiting. The Cowboys’ dangerous linebacker and primary pass rusher, DeMarcus Ware, will be lurking to snare himself some of that. Now there’s a man who’d just as soon WWE a quarterback (except the hits wouldn’t be fake) as say “What’s up?”
I asked Vick about his habit of head shaking. It’s like he can visualize getting his bones crushed from right there in the dimly light hallway.
“I’m ready to get to this game . . . to see how it’s going to go . . . to see how it’s going to play out” he answered.
“That’s the only thing you can do is just go out there and play. Just go out there and play — not think about it and play strong like I have over the last couple of games.”
Vick, now in his 11th NFL season, knows he won’t completely get away from some form of harassment.
“I’m going to take some hits and I’m ready for that,” he said. “Like I have the last couple of games, I’m going to keep plugging.”
Vick’s most recent beatdown left him sore enough that he didn’t turn the corner physically until the end of the week.
He ran down for me how his body feels with each passing day of the week following a pummeling.
"Mondays are brutal. Tuesday’s pretty rough. Wednesday, I start to recover. Thursday the more I run, the more I move around, the more the soreness is worked out,” he said.
I think Vick is a warrior. He mostly stays in a collapsing pocket (sometimes to his detriment) instead of using those speedy wheels of his to run like a bat out of (heck) to escape pressure. There I go again, perpetuating.
He’s ready to put a limping Eagles team on his back and carry it as far as this thing goes. That seems like determination and leadership to me.
Remember that owner Jeff Lurie has made it clear another .500 record (or worse at the Eagles’ current rate) won’t cut it. Lurie’s got his eye on a bigger prize and topping last season’s 8-8 campaign is a must.
The shortest answer I got from Vick in that dimly light hallway was about the short honeymoon he’s had in Philly as the starter.
As a sideline reporter for FOX Sports, I’ve walked around the Eagles’ home field for years. Despite having my custom-made earpieces cranked up to full blast, I’ve distinctly heard some of the random insults hurled at me. And from my front-row seat you don’t have to strain your ears to listen to comments and boos aimed at Vick and Reid.
But Vick told me he’s thankful for every day he gets to work on his craft and just play the game.
His head? It’s perfectly still now, and it’s on straight from where I stand.
For more of Pam Oliver’s reports on the Eagles and QB Michael Vick, tune in FOX NFL Sunday for America’s No. 1 pregame show at noon ET / 9 a.m. PT.