PHILADELPHIA -- Now Chip Kelly knows.
Since January, when he was hired to replace Andy Reid as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, Kelly has dismissed the video record of quarterback Michael Vick's habit of throwing footballs to the other team.
Kelly didn’t know Vick’s reads on the 24 interceptions he threw in his previous 23 games. He didn’t know whether a receiver ran the wrong route or an offensive lineman missed an assignment. So how could he know whether all those turnovers were Vick’s fault?
Now Kelly knows. On Thursday night, he got a sideline view of the Vick Slam: He threw two interceptions, lost a fumble, took five sacks and limped off the field after having his ankles rolled up during a 26-16 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
It would be unfair to blame all of it on Vick. The Eagles' offensive line was confused and physically overwhelmed by the Chiefs. Vick’s receivers couldn’t get open and the offense looked out of sync from the beginning.
“I don’t think Michael was out of sorts,” Kelly said. “I thought Michael did some nice things. We have to do a better job of protecting Mike and giving him an opportunity to set his feet and throw the football.”
In explaining away Vick’s performance, Kelly sounded an awful lot like Reid, his predecessor -- and on this night, his opponent. He didn’t sound at all like the cocky coach who has said, many times, that every sack is ultimately the quarterback’s fault. Both interceptions were clearly Vick’s fault.
The first came early. Vick threw to his right, toward tight end Brent Celek. Linebacker Derrick Johnson tipped the pass toward safety Eric Berry, who hauled it in and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown.
“We’ve got to get it out a little bit quicker, I think,” Kelly said. “You know, you can’t do that against a good football team like that."
“What hurt so much about that play was that I knew exactly what I needed to do,” Vick said. “I had press coverage on one side and I just tried to take the easy way out. If I just throw the fade on the other side, it never happens. I made a poor decision and it was a bad ball.”
“Just a missed read," Vick said. “I missed him, and those are plays that you can’t have against a good defense like this. I solely take responsibility for what happened tonight.”
Bad games happen to everyone. The problem here is Vick’s history -- the stuff Kelly watched on videotape and shrugged off.
Remember in 2010, when Vick had that brilliant Monday night performance in Washington? He completed 20 of 28 passes for 333 yards and four touchdowns, and the consensus was that he had mastered football. Within six weeks, the Minnesota Vikings were flustering him with blitzes and the joy ride was over.
Vick opened the 2011 season with a 31-13 win at St. Louis. The Eagles lost their next four games. In the fourth, Vick threw four interceptions.
Last year, you know all about. Vick was rusty early and injured late. The Eagles went 4-12, Reid was fired and it looked very much as if Vick would be gone, too.
But Kelly watched all that game tape and saw Vick’s mobility and his strong arm and believed he could eliminate the mistakes. He is not the first coach to be lured by the siren song of Vick’s talent. He is very likely to be the last.
That could be because Vick succeeds, in which case he isn’t going anywhere. Or it could be because Vick repeats history this season and nobody else is willing to entrust him with a football team.
Or it could be because Vick gets hurt again. He has played a full 16-game season exactly once in his career. That was seven years ago. He has come up limping at least once in all three of the Eagles’ games this season.
Vick ran out of bounds at the end of his career-long 61-yard run. But he took some big hits in the pocket. Johnson drilled him as he threw a touchdown pass to Jason Avant in the first quarter. Justin Houston fell across both his ankles on the Eagles’ final offensive play. Vick was hurt and lost a fumble on the play.
The end result was the kind of frustrating loss that became habitual in Reid’s two final seasons. Vick was an enormous part of that. He embraced Kelly and his offensive scheme, saying the new coach had helped “fall in love” with football all over again.
Vick won the starting job over Nick Foles during training camp and two nearly flawless preseason games. He went back to Washington, scene of his 2010 display, and convinced the world that he had mastered football again. He put up astounding numbers and was turnover-free in Sunday’s 33-30 loss to San Diego.
And then came Thursday night. Turnovers. Sacks. Passes batted down at the line of scrimmage. Another injury.
“To say that we didn’t do our jobs correctly is probably the only way that I can put it,” Vick said. “We have to go back to the drawing board.”
Somehow you get the feeling they’ll find some very familiar answers when they do.