We've all seen this. You're driving on the highway and there's a car crawling in reverse on the shoulder just past the ramp because the driver realized too late that he was supposed to use that exit. So instead of just continuing to the next exit and figuring out the proper way to correct a mistake that can't be unmade, he has decided to do something dangerous and irresponsible that could actually end up making things much, much worse.
If Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid decides this week to bench quarterback Michael Vick and replace him with rookie Nick Foles, then Reid is the driver of that car.
The exit ramp for Reid on this was two years ago, when he made the decision to go all-in on Vick as his franchise quarterback. Reid was so dazzled by Vick's ability to perform on-field feats no other quarterback could and so impressed by his own perceived success in "transforming" Vick into a more polished quarterback that he decided before the 2011 season that Vick was his guy. He built a two-year plan around Vick, signing him to a long-term deal with an escape clause after the second season and adding key pieces around him on offense and defense.
Right now, Reid is not even halfway through that plan's second year. And as upsetting as Sunday's loss was, as distressing as it is to sit through the bye week at 3-3 instead of 4-2 or better, Reid has to realize Vick gives him his best chance to win this year. He can deliberate all he wants, fire coordinators, shake up the offensive line, scare the daylights out of anyone in the organization who has reason to fear for his job. But in the end, he'll have to conclude that he and Vick are stuck with each other.
Foles can't be the answer. The kid went 2-7 in the Pac-12 in 2011. He's going to save the 2012 Philadelphia Eagles? Reid can evaluate Foles only on practice work and a couple of good-looking preseason games. That's not enough -- not when your mandate is to win at least six or seven more games the rest of the way or lose your job. As shaky and frustrating as Vick has been this year, as mind-boggling as it is that he can't learn how to take better care of the ball, Reid has seen him drive from behind to take the lead in the fourth quarter four times already. He saw him do it four times in 2010 as well. It may be easy to look from the outside and say Reid can't win with Vick, but he has. Whatever else Vick is, he's a player Reid knows gives him a chance to come back and win a close game.
Foles could be that kind of quarterback, sure. He could be the future of the franchise for all we know. But nobody knows, and right now there's no way to be sure. He hasn't proved he can stand behind a crumbling offensive line, take a step one way or the other and make a throw when he absolutely has to. He hasn't led an NFL team the length of the field in the fourth quarter to turn a deficit into a lead. And without proof, in Reid's situation, he can't take that kind of gamble.
Vick is anything but perfect, and yes, we've seen him blow it in those spots as well as easier ones. But he's the best option Reid has. Reid can't trust Foles and he can't trust Trent Edwards. Although he can't really trust Vick either, he has seen it work -- as recently as 18 days ago against the Super Bowl champs. Through all of the crushing mistakes, he has seen Vick avoid injury and make some big-time plays behind a line that has played terribly and receivers who won't block. And because those last two things aren't sure bets to improve anytime soon, Reid is stuck with the guy he knows might be able to win him a game in spite of it all.
Reid made a big bet on Vick in spite of all the flaws, believing the talent was enough to win out and propel the Eagles to glory. He made that bet knowing it might be the last big bet he got to make as Eagles coach, because if it didn't work out, his long and successful time in Philadelphia was likely to reach its end. Part of leadership is the ability to confidently project a belief in your plan and your people, and there's little point in being a head coach in the NFL for 14 years and not being the kind of man who stands by what he believes in.
Reid can't know what's ahead if he stays with Vick. It might not work out. He might not be able to get where he wants to go from here. But throwing the car in reverse and trying to get off at one of the exits he already has missed is the wrong solution. All that does is heighten the possibility of a horrible crash.