PHILADELPHIA — Here’s a scary thought for Michael Vick’s opponents: He could play even better next year.
Vick had the best season of his career and led the Philadelphia Eagles to an NFC East title without the benefit of practicing as the starting quarterback until Week 2 of the season.
There’s no telling how well he would’ve played had he spent the entire offseason, all the organized team activities, minicamps and training camp preparing with the rest of the first-team offense and working with coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.
“I think going through a whole training camp and just being here, being with Andy, he knows a lot of things that I need to work on, that’ll make me a lot better as a quarterback,” Vick said. “It’ll pay huge dividends for me, so I’ll be excited about that. I’ll follow the same routine I had last year, keep the same attitude and the same work ethic.”
Vick began the season as the backup to Kevin Kolb. He got his chance when Kolb sustained a concussion in the opener, and forced Reid to make him the permanent starter with one dynamic performance after another.
Vick was selected to start the Pro Bowl, his fourth trip to Hawaii in eight seasons. He set career highs in yards passing (3,018), touchdowns passing (21), touchdowns rushing (9), completion percentage (62.6) and passer rating (100.2). The Eagles (10-7) were 8-3 in games he started and finished.
But his last pass will haunt him for a while.
Vick threw an interception in the end zone with 33 seconds left to seal Philadelphia’s 21-16 loss to Green Bay in a wild-card game Sunday.
“I try to do everything I can to possibly protect the ball, keep the ball away from the opposing team and make positive plays, and I failed to do that in that situation,” Vick said. “It’s something that I’ll have to really work on in the offseason, so I’ve just got to deal with it on a personal level.”
The 30-year-old Vick has overcome plenty of adversity in his life. He went from a megastar with the Atlanta Falcons to bankrupt and reviled. Vick missed two seasons because he served 18 months in federal prison for his role in a dogfighting operation. He returned to the league when the Eagles gave him a chance last year and worked his way up from a situational role to an MVP candidate.
His remarkable comeback story won’t be complete unless he one day hoists the Lombardi Trophy.
“It was a great season, but the ultimate goal is winning the Super Bowl,” Vick said. “It was a great season, but that’s not enough.”
For all his success in Atlanta — Vick went to three Pro Bowls in six years and took the Falcons from doormat to the NFC championship game — he wasn’t a complete player until coming here.
Vick learned from Reid, Mornhinweg and quarterbacks coach James Urban to become a patient passer in the pocket. He still ran around and used his sensational scrambling skills to make big plays, but was more disciplined and usually looked to pass first.
“Now I know how to play the game,” he said. “I’ve been taught how to play the game, how to go through my progressions, how to be patient, how to stay balanced, how to stay down when I throw. Discipline. That’s something I’ve been taught, it’s something that I’m going to continue to improve on and it can’t be taken away from me. I’m only going to get better.”
Vick doesn’t have a contract for next season, and he would be a hot free agent on the market if the NFL labor situation allows. It’s highly unlikely the Eagles will let him go anywhere. Vick wants to return and Reid already said he wants him — and Kolb — back.
The Eagles have an impressive core of young players surrounding Vick on offense, and the team set a franchise record for points with 439. If the line improves and gives Vick more protection, he could do more damage next year.
“The sky’s the limit, and I know that,” Vick said. “I just know how hard I’ve got to work. I know what I can accomplish. I know things that I didn’t do so well this year that I’m going to practice this entire offseason on. So, I’m very thankful for the opportunity. I’m very thankful to be here.”
Vick has said all the right things since his return, and he’s handled his success much better than he did as a youngster with the Falcons. He’s open to criticism, and understands the magnitude of being the quarterback on a championship-caliber team.
“That’s the nature of the position,” he said. “Everything’s going to be thrown on your shoulders as a quarterback. I accept it, I respect it. That’s a responsibility that you take on, when you get up under the center. Like I say, I’m built to play the position and deal with everything that comes along with it, and I’ll never shy away from it. I’ll continue to do what I’ve done on the field: that’s always stay aggressive. And I’ll always accept the task.”