PHILADELPHIA -- Because Michael Vick has bailed his team out so many times this season, it seemed appropriate that he limped onto the field late in the fourth quarter with a legitimate chance to extend the Eagles' season. But Vick ultimately did what he's all too often been coached to do: He went for the home run ball when a safe pass would've done the trick.
He's been the most electrifying player in the NFL this season and it went against his nature to try and hedge his bet by dumping the ball to a running back. With 44 seconds left in the game, at least one of Vick's receivers thought he was going to clock the ball. But Vick signaled "all go" to his teammates, which calls for four vertical routes. That he decided to launch the ball to well-covered rookie Riley Cooper in the end zone will be open to question throughout the offseason following Sunday's 21-16 loss to the Packers.
"The last play, we had four verticals and I just took a shot at the end zone," said Vick following the game. "I could have checked it down to the back and I feel like I got greedy and took a shot at the end zone and didn't throw the ball I wanted to throw, and then it got picked off. It's a bad way to go out, by hey, I went out swinging."
That last statement points to one of this team's biggest flaws. If a play doesn't have a high degree of difficulty, it's almost not worth running. That's how running back LeSean McCoy finishes a wild-card playoff game with only 16 touches. The Eagles are the biggest boom-or-bust team in the NFL, and it's difficult to make a deep playoff run with that type of approach.
The defense certainly played a role in this loss, but let's not act like we had huge expectations for that unit against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. The only surprising thing about the failures on that side of the ball was they came against the Packers' running game. It became apparent early in the first quarter that the Eagles hadn't secured much film on Packers rookie James Starks, who gashed them for 123 yards on 23 carries. Credit Eagles starting defensive tackle Antonio Dixon for his honesty after the game.
"I didn't even know who he was," Dixon told me.
But the Eagles' offense we watched for much of the season wouldn't have flinched at 21 points by the opposition. The Minnesota Vikings had exposed the Eagles by blitzing Vick from every direction two weeks ago. You thought that coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg would've used their "bye" week against the Dallas Cowboys to fix some of those issues. But on the first play from scrimmage, Packers linebacker Desmond Bishop came racing through to sack Vick for a 9-yard loss.
And when wide receiver DeSean Jackson left the game midway through the first quarter with a leg injury, the offense became even more stagnant. Jackson returned to the game, but his only two catches came in the fourth quarter. It felt like Reid and Mornhinweg spent Sunday looking for the big play rather than taking what the Packers were giving them. The Packers did a great job of keeping Vick on the sideline by running the ball, but the Eagles still had opportunities.
Reid sat in front of a packed house of reporters following the game and talked about some upcoming "offseason projects." But the story of the offseason will be what the Eagles do with Vick's contract situation. That seemed like a foregone conclusion three weeks ago when Vick engineered a brilliant fouth-quarter comeback against the New York Giants. But that win masked some of the deficiencies that had already begun to appear in Vick's game. In his final seven starts of the season (counting Sunday), Vick threw seven interceptions, fumbled nine times and took 22 sacks.
The Eagles put their entire season in one man's hands, and he didn't play that well down the stretch. It's likely the Eagles will still place the franchise tag on Vick if such a thing exists under the new collective bargaining agreement, but I'm not as sure about that as I was heading into Sunday's game.
Though he'd never admit it, Reid was willing to live with some losses this season while going through a transition with Kevin Kolb at quarterback. But once the Vick Experience was launched, Reid truly thought he had a shot at going to the Super Bowl. Asked whether he expects to be back with the Eagles in 2011, Vick said, "I hope so, but in this business you never know. I'm going to stay optimistic and keep believing. I still feel like I can play at a high level for the next couple of years. Still have a lot of work to do, though, and I'm conscious of that."
There's no reason to believe that Vick's skills will diminish that much as he turns 30, but you do have to wonder if his body can take the type of beatings it took down the stretch. The Eagles became so reliant on their quarterback's brilliance that they didn't have anything to fall back on when teams started to slow him down.
It's been reported that Philadelphia would demand a couple of first-round picks in order to move Kolb, although that seems a bit rich. But there's no doubt that Reid and general manager Howie Roseman are extremely high on him. Kolb seemed a bit surprised as reporters surrounded him in the postgame locker room. It seems that Vick's performance late in the season has brought him back into the picture.
So in some ways, the Eagles are back where they started last offseason. Vick's certainly more exciting to watch than Donovan McNabb, but the season ended at the same spot.