Dog Day Afternoon: Michael Vick Returns to the Starting Lineup

Many eyes will be on Detroit Sunday afternoon, because for the first time in nearly four years, Michael Vick is taking the field as the starting quarterback for an NFL team. One year removed from a suspension for his 2007 conviction and subsequent 21 months in prison for running a dog fighting ring, Vick steps under center to replace injured Kevin Kolb, who’s unable to play following a concussion suffered in last week’s opening week lost to the Green Bay Packers.

Kolb was handed the keys to the kingdom in the offseason when the team traded the face of the franchise Donovan McNabb to the Washington Redskins and promoted Vick to the second string, signaling an end of an era, as McNabb had been the starting QB since 1999. However, Kolb was ineffective in his time on the field before suffering a concussion in the second quarter that knocked him out of the game. Vick started the second half and led the Eagles’ comeback from being behind 20-3 to a 27-20 before the comeback effort was thwarted. At times he looked like the Michael Vick of old, showing supreme athleticism and a cannon-like arm that electrified fans for six seasons prior to when his house of cards came tumbling down, rushing for over 100 yards and throwing for 175 yards.

There are sure to be as many references Sunday to the Mike Vick of old as references to his off the field issues, but the fact of the matter is, the NFL’s new policy on post-concussion participation may have saved the Eagles a QB controversy. Before last week’s game ended, game commentators, sports radio and the internet were already in agreement that Vick had earned the right to be considered to start this week’s game against the Lions. Eagles coach Andy Reid dodged a bullet when Kolb failed a battery of tests this week and was ruled out of the game, making Vick the de facto starter. But what happens if Vick is superb this week and the offense moves the chains and puts points on the board and wins? Nothing, all-everything quarterback McNabb was traded to make way for Kolb, he’s the starter until his play shows otherwise.

Reid says Vick has grown tremendously as a quarterback in his system, which will be tested as the Lions have had the week to prepare for Vick. Last season and coming into this season, special “Wildcat” packages were inserted into the playbook for Vick, but he is out of that role today. The question is, is it the old Michael Vick or the new Mike Vick calling the game today? Before the troubles, #7 was an exciting player that dazzled opponents and fans alike with great runs and strong throws. But aside from his God-given exclusives, he was really an average quarterback, too often he relied on those superhuman abilities to get him out of bad reads and repeatedly showed poor decision-making skills on the field. The new #7 is trying to prove he’s not a run-first quarterback, as evidenced when he tried to force a pass into the end zone last week instead of tucking it away to run it in himself, yet he still managed to rush for over 100 yards. The key is finding a happy medium between the two quarterbacks and doing what’s best for the team.

Those poor decision-making skills weren’t confined to the 100 yards of turf that he excelled within. Over the years he’s had numerous run-ins with the police, airport security, creditors, ex-girlfriends, Atlanta Falcons fans and even this past summer his name was brought up in an investigation of the shooting of his former co-defendant at his 30th birthday party. I haven’t read of any planned protests, though I’m sure there will be some dog lovers and just plain’ ol ignorant fans that will heckle the QB throughout the game, while criminals that have bilked the quality of life out of Americans continue to rake in hundreds of millions after being caught with their hand in the cookie jar. But they will watch him play today. He hasn’t escaped his past as unscathed as he has the pursuit of linebackers, but Michael Vick stands face-to-face with the rest of his career today and I’m rooting for him dazzle us one more time.

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