The Philadelphia Eagles' season rests on quarterback Michael Vick. All of the talent they've assembled around him will go to waste if he cannot cash it in with a healthy, productive season. Vick enters the 2012 season under more pressure than any player in the league, and much of the pressure he faces is pressure simply to stay on the field.
And yet, for the second time in two preseason games, Vick on Monday night had to leave early after suffering an injury against the Patriots. X-rays on his ribs were negative, which is the good news for the Eagles. And with 20 days left until the Eagles' regular-season opener, it's unlikely they'll subject him to further preseason game action even if he's healthy enough to play.
But the problem here runs deeper than that, of course. The problem is that Vick is an injury-prone player and the Eagles cannot survive if he gets injured. He banged his thumb on a teammate's helmet in the preseason opener, and that turned out fine. He took a huge hit in the ribcage from Jermaine Cunningham in Monday's game and headed off for the X-ray machine again, and that seems to have turned out as well as the Eagles could have hoped. But this is a bad pace, an X-ray per game, and it's the reason you can't feel very good about picking the Eagles to win the NFC East, even if you've convinced yourself they should.
Making matters worse is that the play on which Vick got injured Monday was symptomatic of past problems that have led to past injuries. He kept the play alive longer than he should have. Evan Mathis got beaten on a block, and the rush was on Vick more quickly than it should have been. He spotted it and spun away, but rather than (a) throw the ball out of bounds when he saw the play was broken (b) fallen on the ball and taken the sack or (c) run out of bounds, he stepped back up and heaved the ball downfield as hard as he could. It was a stupid throw for two reasons. First, it could easily have been intercepted (not that such things matter in games that don't), and second, it left him open for Cunningham's hit. Had Vick rid himself of the ball at the first sign of trouble, the hit never would have happened.
Vick doesn't give up on plays. He believes himself talented enough to make something out of nothing. And throughout his career, he's encountered a fair bit of evidence to support his belief. But what Vick needs to understand is the level of responsibility he bears, and the proper way to manage that responsibility. The Eagles need him on the field more than they need him to turn one busted play into a miraculous 40-yard gain. The great quarterbacks know when to ditch the ball or take the sack. If Vick wants to be a great quarterback, he's going to have to be reliably healthy. And to do that, he's got to learn these lessons. The distressing part of the first half of the Eagles' second preseason game is that the play on which Vick got injured supports the theory that he'll never learn how to minimize his injury risk.