It doesn't actually matter what any of us think. That's important to keep in mind. Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles believe they'll get better, and they'd be perfectly happy rolling right into the playoffs with everyone outside their building unconvinced. So while we who write about them and the fans who fret about them can look at Sunday's 17-16 skin-of-their-teeth victory and point out all of the things that reminded us of last year's flop, it doesn't actually matter what we think.
However, that is what we saw, right? Turnovers. Penalties. Bad Vick decisions. Evidence that he doesn't read the field well. Stubborn, silly playcalling by the coaching staff, insisting on throwing against a team that can't stop the run. Whether it matters to the Eagles or not, we're all perfectly within our rights to point out that everything bad about the offense's performance Sunday looked a lot like everything that was bad about the 2011 Eagles offense.
And that may well end up mattering in a way it currently does not. Because Vick's teammates are people too, and they watch film of the games, and if they start finding reasons to think it looks like the same old same old, then Vick is going to have a major problem.
In this piece by Geoff Mosher, Vick says he could sense doubt among his fellow offensive players when he arrived in the huddle just prior to the game-winning 91-yard drive Sunday. And Todd Herremans, Vick's right tackle, said there was a sense of deja vu:
"It's definitely too much like last year to be happy with," right tackle Todd Herremans said. "We're definitely not happy with all the turnovers sand penalties, but we stuck it out as team, didn't start pointing fingers at anybody and grinded it out in the end."
Which, good for them. They did win the game, and if you win the games in which you play your worst, that can only help you in the standings. It's not how, in the end, it's how many, and the fact is the Eagles are 1-0.
But the thing is, overall, this wasn't a game in which they played their worst. The Eagles' defense was actually quite excellent in this game. They played tough against the run, which they didn't always do last year, and they made rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden's debut a two-sack, four-interception nightmare. The Eagles' defense looked considerably better than it had last year. You can point out that the Browns are lousy if you like, but the lousy Rams picked up big yardage chunks in the run game in last year's opener, so this does show year-over-year improvement, degree of difficulty notwithstanding.
The problem is that Vick's performance statistically demeaned that of the defense. How big a deal, really, can four interceptions be if the Browns can do it too? And to your own veteran quarterback?
Off of one game -- especially a win -- there's no reason to believe the Eagles' defense is feeling that way. But if this were to become a trend -- if Vick were to continue turning the ball over and failing to do anything productive when the defense kept reliably handing it back to him -- that's the kind of thing that could wear a team down emotionally over the course of a season. If Vick saw doubt in the eyes of his teammates late in Sunday's game, imagine what he'll see if he does this again a few more times before Halloween.
You can give the Eagles a pass for Sunday if you want to. You can buy Andy Reid's "rust" explanation about what was wrong with Vick. And you're more than welcome to believe they will get much better. I personally believe they can and will. But the problem is that too many of Sunday's problems reinforced the worries you had about Vick and the offense coming off of last year, and that means the doubt has roots that make it much harder to remove. If those roots start digging into the minds of Vick's teammates, he's going to have a problem. That's why it'd be a really good idea for Vick to look a lot better next week against Baltimore. Especially at home.