Don’t get it twisted — Vick’s right

Mike Vick made us aware of it, so now let’s deal with it. All of it.

Superstar pocket passers receive more protection from NFL referees than superstar, athletic, scrambling quarterbacks. I’m reluctant to call that a fact, but I know it’s a widely held perception among players across the league.

Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees get better treatment from the refs than Vick, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger. That’s the perception.

Here’s another one: Vick, Donovan McNabb and Vince Young — arguably the three most athletic QBs of the past decade — believe they receive the least amount of referee protection.

Let’s deal with it. All of it.

In the aftermath of Philadelphia’s stunning loss to the Giants and Vick’s latest injury — a bruised right hand — the $100 million QB couldn’t contain his frustration and pointed out what he believes to be an unfair double standard. He limited his complaints to his own situation, but my eyes and ears saw and heard much more.

“Everybody seen the game,” Vick said. “I’m on the ground constantly, all the time. Every time I throw the ball, in all my highlights, just watching film in general, every time I throw the ball I’m on the ground, getting hit in the head. I don’t know why I don’t get the 15-yard flags like everybody else do.

“But I’m not going to complain about it. I’m just going to make everybody aware of it and hopefully somebody will take notice.”

I hear ya, Mike. I notice.

The Giants defender who injured Vick on Sunday led with his helmet and hit Vick late. The defender should’ve been flagged on the field. He should be fined by Roger Goodell.

"I was trying to protect myself,” Vick said. “Still didn’t get a flag. That’s pretty much the story for the last three weeks. Obviously, at some point something catastrophic is going to happen . . . ”

I hear ya, Mike. I notice.

I noticed two years ago when Donovan McNabb scrambled into the end zone during Philly’s season-opening victory and two Carolina Panthers defensive linemen plopped on top of him for no reason, breaking a rib. The injury accelerated McNabb’s exit from Philly and Vick’s resurrection. The refs didn’t throw a flag. The league ruled the Carolina linemen did nothing wrong.

I argued at the time that if Manning or Brady had been injured in the same situation, the refs, the league and the TV networks would all take action. I also argued at the time that the double standard is not a race issue. It’s an issue of star power. I still believe that (to a point). Manning and Brady are the biggest stars in television. They’re the Michael Jordan and Larry Bird of football. Jordan and Bird were pampered by NBA refs.

The problem is Vick has established himself as Magic Johnson, a ratings-driving TV star in his own right.

“I don’t know why I don’t get the 15-yard flags like everybody else do,” Vick said.

He’s referring to the other TV-star QBs. Manning and Brady are “everybody else” in Vick’s mind. Those are Vick’s peers in terms of importance to the league.

You can’t simply explain away Vick’s complaints by pointing out he is more prone to leave the pocket than Manning and Brady. The rules governing hits on quarterbacks are primarily driven by the huge financial investments owners make in the position and the position’s importance in supporting television interest.

Vick has a second $100 million contract, and I’d argue that he’s the league’s third-best individual television draw after Manning and Brady. Vick is worthy of protection. We should not dismiss his complaint as whining.

“There’s no reason for me to go into a big dissertation about why I’m not getting the calls,” Vick said. “The refs — they got their jobs, as well. I even mentioned it in training camp to the refs when we had our little meeting . . .

“I’m not blaming the referees by any stretch. Let’s not get it twisted here. I’m just saying I think everybody on the field should do their job.”

That means the refs should be cognizant of the fact that athletic QBs should not be treated like running backs, even the QBs who run better than running backs. It’s in the best interest of the league to put Vick in the same invisible protective bubble that Manning and Brady inhabit.

When Brady injured a knee, the league changed the rules on where a defender could hit a QB. Brady still gets hit. But defenders across the league know to tread carefully around Brady and Manning. Defenders know the league (and refs) will take action to protect Brady and Manning.

When it comes to Vick and QBs who share his attributes, defenders believe the league pays lip service. Vick has made us aware of it. There’s no reason for any of us — refs, fans, sports pundits, Roger Goodell — to ignore it.