Can Mike Vick Lead the Eagles to a Super Bowl?
You notice a similarity between the teams that took that field Sunday? You notice the difference between them and one who didn't, the Eagles?
You know where I'm going with this. And that you do is partly my point.
Scanning the sidelines and shotgun snaps and huddles of Super Bowl 46 taught a pretty telling lesson: what it takes to crack the elites, something on Jeffrey Lurie's honey-do list since August. Michael Vick in 2011 (with 2010 as a frame of reference) showed something similar: He's not the one to take them there.
The 2010 Vick could've been. Unconventional, maybe. But a point that Cam Newton started and Tim Tebow furthered this year -- that quarterbacking is a dish best served with variety -- Eli Manning proved last night. You don't have to be Tom Brady and Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning great to win. You can be Ben Roethlisberger and Brett Favre and Tony Romo great and succeed at the same case-by-case clip as the rest of them.
Vick could've been that.
Then came 2011. There that went.
Now, you can't be sure what to expect. Injuries maybe. But the walls top three quarterback niche he carved out for himself in 2010 (21-to-6 TD-to-INT ratio, 62.6 completion percentage) caved a year ago (18-to-14 TD-to-INT ratio, 59.8 completion percentage) and can't be trusted to stay sturdy for long.
Why the step back? You can't be sure. There are smoking guns well beyond injuries (Vick's missed action in every year but one; 2010 wasn't it) and unreliables (DeSean Jackson wasn't at his best, but LeSean McCoy was all that and more). There's the complacency that follows certain someones' (someones lacking Brady and Manning and Brees and Rodgers work ethic) re-entry into relevance. There's a multiplier effect like a $100 million contract, crafted less to pay Vick than pat him on the back.
I don't know Vick. I've never seen him work. I've never heard him speak. Not in front of me, anyway. So to call him lazy is a ledge I won't jump off of.
I do know this much: The result -- regression -- was pretty clear.
How you turn that around? Less so.
How, exactly, does Vick rekindle the magic? How does anyone? Can it even be done?
Conventional wisdom tells you that, since Vick in 2010 showed he could, the possibility shouldn't be ruled out in 2012. But would you really want that? How would it make you feel to watch Vick -- much like the 2007 and 2011 Giants for how he plays his best with haters backing him into a corner -- make a 180 in 2012 that seems as simple as flipping a switch, but only once doubt settles in?
Wouldn't that make 2011 sting beyond bearable?
Even if he does, what's to make hope float for 2013? Why wouldn't he regress the same after a from-nowhere ascension?
This much was clear Sunday: The Eagles aren't that far from Super Bowl contention. Forget records, a one game that could've given them the Giants' 9-7 regular season mark or the five blown fourth-quarter leads that could've given them the Patriots' 14-2. We're talking competitiveness at its peak.
You could piecemeal together the Eagles from parts of the Giants and Patriots. You could take the Giants elite athleticism and pass rush, and patchy yet functional offensive line, and temper it with the Patriots' shoddy secondary and iffy linebackers. Each was worth its weight in Super Bowl stardom.
The Eagles have all that those teams showcased. Every part but one.
What does the team do now? Wait it out, I guess. With a shallow quarterback draft and a high premium on cheap top picks, there's too much risk to take a quarterback at No. 15 and too much cost to move up. That, and the Eagles could get their help elsewhere without chancing or paying.
But barring something drastic and promising and sustainably so, when 2012 comes and goes and pays Vick the rest of his guarantees, the Eagles need to move on. Turn their focus on the draft. Start scouting. Start over.
Unless Vick shows us something different, something unlikely and even then unbelievable, Super Bowl 46 showed us all we needed to see.
(This article was written of Matt Hammond for www.973espn.com he can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @MattHammond973)