PHILADELPHIA — The new Michael Vick makes big plays with his arm instead of his legs.
Vick’s evolution as quarterback is summed up perfectly by the way he operated a hurry-up offense in Philadelphia’s 28-3 win at Jacksonville on Sunday. He’s no longer a run-first guy who quickly takes off with the ball if his primary option is covered. Rather, he’s found success in the pocket.
Vick has an even bigger challenge coming up when the Eagles (2-1) host Washington (1-2) in Donovan McNabb’s return to Philadelphia.
But the way Vick is playing now, he might be a better fit for the Eagles than even McNabb, who led them to five NFC championship games in 11 seasons.
“I think both of them are tremendous and playing very well right now, so I’m not going to get into comparisons,” Eagles coach Andy Reid said Monday.
With 1:37 left in the first half against Jacksonville, the Eagles got the ball at the Jaguars 47 with no timeouts remaining. The seven-play sequence that followed showed how far Vick has come in his development.
Vick withstood a blitz, took a hit and threw the ball away on first down. The old Vick might have taken a sack by trying to escape the rush, or thrown an interception by passing into coverage.
Vick got pressured on the next play and was nearly in the grasp when he dumped a short pass for a 2-yard gain. Once again, he didn’t take a sack or attempt a risky pass.
On third-and-8, Vick threw a 21-yard strike over the middle to Brent Celek. It was a beautiful pass in traffic that was out of the reach of the defenders and hit Celek in stride, keeping the drive going.
After a deep incompletion, Vick fired a 14-yard out to Jeremy Maclin, who failed to get out of bounds. Vick alertly rushed everyone to the line of scrimmage and spiked the ball.
That set up first down at the Jaguars 16 with 12 seconds left. The coaches called for maximum protection on the next play, leaving the tight end, fullback and running back in for extra protection. Maclin and DeSean Jackson were Vick’s only targets. He couldn’t take a sack or the first half would end. If he ran, he had to score or the clock would expire.
Vick dropped back and focused his eyes on Jackson. He felt pressure despite having eight blockers, darted out of the way, reset his feet, looked off Jackson and threw a backdoor pass to Maclin coming across the end zone for a touchdown that gave the Eagles a 14-3 lead.
The old Vick probably wouldn’t have waited for Maclin to come open underneath. He would’ve run once he saw Jackson was blanketed by the secondary.
But the new No. 7 wears green and white instead of red and black, and is playing like a complete quarterback. This version of Vick is better than the dynamic superstar who went to three Pro Bowls in six seasons with Atlanta.
Vick’s progress can be measured by the discipline he showed not just on that touchdown pass, but the entire two-minute drive.
“He’s being very decisive right now in his decision-making,” Reid said.
Vick benefited from watching McNabb run Philadelphia’s offense last year, and improved his study habits and throwing mechanics. It helps he has excellent teachers in Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, and perhaps more importantly, he has outstanding receivers. In Atlanta, Vick had to do it all. Here, he has a strong supporting cast.
“About his study habits, he’s really cranked down on those and we have to kind of kick him out of the building here,” Reid said. “He’s here all the time and that’s a good thing. I don’t know if that’s the way it was always in his career. And then, he has some pretty good receivers there to throw to. I’m not saying he didn’t in Atlanta, but I’m saying here he has some pretty good receivers that know that game and he can put it out there and they can go get it.”
In 2½ games, Vick has completed 60.7 percent of his passes for 750 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions. He has a passer rating of 110.2, and also has 170 yards rushing and one TD.
Vick has helped the Eagles significantly in the red zone, an area where they struggled under McNabb and in the brief time Kevin Kolb was the starter. With Vick behind center, the offense has seven TDs in eight trips inside an opponent’s 20-yard line.
“If you go back to my days in Atlanta, I thought we always did a good job in the red zone and had a high efficiency and percentage in the red zone and were able to score a lot of points,” Vick said. “My eyes light up when we get down there and I think everybody else on this football team does, too. You have to go out there and put the ball in the end zone. You work so hard to get down there and you don’t want field goals, you want touchdowns.”
Vick earned the starting job with a pair of dazzling performances after Kolb sustained a concussion. He backed up Reid’s flip-flop decision to make him the starter with another stellar effort against the Jaguars.
Vick threw for 291 yards and three TDs and ran for another. For the first time in his career, he’s had consecutive 250-yard games and three straight games with a passer rating above 100.
“He’s worked so hard to get back where he needs to be and it’s a great opportunity for him to go out there and prove everybody wrong,” Jackson said.