By Bill Campbell
There’s nothing to contemplate this week except the Eagles’ performance in St. Louis. Even the Phillies’ winning 3 out of 4 in Milwaukee should take second place – at least for this week, or until the baseball post-season.
The Birds established one fact in St. Louis last Sunday: they may not be a “dream team” but as long as they can keep Michael Vick mobile and breathing they are and will be a contender. A team that has to be taken seriously for the next 16 weeks. And it wouldn’t hurt to feed DeSean Jackson some good vitamins as well when and if they ever get around to slipping him a new contract extension.
The victory over St. Louis wasn’t exactly “gold standard”. They survived a few obstacles. Like a 47 yard touchdown run from the Rams first play from scrimmage by Steven Jackson, who was injured and hardly returned. Some costly penalties and some severe blitzing in the early going, among other problems. But they hung in there tough, managed to reorganize on both sides of the ball and even established a decent running game. But the efforts of two players – Vick and Jackson – must take precedence. The play that really turned the game around and got the Eagles into a challenging position was Juqua Parker’s fumble recovery and 56 yard run for a touchdown with 4 minutes remaining in the first period. It not only allowed the Birds to escape a disastrous start but actually gave them a 14-7 lead, permitting Vick and Company to take it from there.
This team’s offense starts with Vick and most times ends with Jackson. Many times the Rams brought more people to hit Michael than the Eagles could block. The quarterback was hit additional times but on most of those occasions he ran outside and forward, sometimes for his life, displaying his great athleticism. If Andy Reid was responsible for the Eagles’ giving Vick his celebrated “second chance”, at least from a pure football viewpoint he knew what he was doing.
Reid’s record on opening day in the NFL is 6 and 7. If Vick had been his quarterback, his overall record would have been much better. When the St. Louis game was still in doubt last Sunday, Vick turned the tide in the Eagles’ favor. He had 51 of the Eagles 70 rushing yards in the first half, 98 for the day, in addition to 14 for 32 passing for a total of 187 yards. Plus he threw TD passes to Jackson and LeSean McCoy. It was Vick, with his legs and his pure football instincts, that spelled “contender” in loud terms for all to hear.
DeSean Jackson has proven his worth. His work on the field and his post-game comments on Sunday proved that he intends to play as hard as ever, regardless of what they choose to pay him. On his first catch of a Vick pass last Sunday, he had 2 defenders draped all over him but came down with the ball, losing only his helmet. He also celebrated with a joyful signal for a first down. If he was holding a grudge or giving much thought to his contract situation, it didn’t show. Instead he made a very tough catch in double coverage for a 41 yard gain.
When Jackson first arrived here, everyone recognized his superior ability but thought he was really too small. He played super hard, if only to change their minds. And he seems to be playing that way now, hold-out or no hold-out. The Pittsburgh Steelers gave safety man Troy Polamalua a 4 year deal the other day worth $36.5 million. The Minnesota Vikings awarded almost $100 million over 7 years to their brilliant running back, Adrian Peterson. The Dallas Cowboys signed Jason Witten for 4 more years for roughly $37 million. Those teams did not want unhappy players starting another season. They were all worth what those teams decided to pay them. DeSean Jackson is worth in the same neighborhood to the Eagles. He’s taking a major risk for serious injury without seeing that big payday — to which he is entitled.
In looking over other stats from opening day games around the league, I was attracted by some familiar names. Like Kevin Kolb of the Arizona Cardinals, Donovan McNabb of the Minnesota Vikings and David Akers of the San Francisco 49ers. Kolb won his game, defeating the Carolina Panthers 28-21 while throwing for 309 yards and 2 touchdowns. McNabb had a very rough time in the Vikings’ loss at San Diego, 24-17 with McNabb going 7 for 15 for only 39 yards. But David Akers had no trouble with the unpredictable winds in San Francisco, kicking 4 field goals in a 33-17 win over the Seattle Seahawks in Jim Harbaugh’s NFL coaching debut. Joe Flacco is another familiar quarterback name, from Audubon High School and the University of Delaware. His big Baltimore Ravens performance led the way to a 35-7 trouncing of the Pittsburgh Steelers in which Flacco went 17 for 29 and 3 touchdowns.
Quotes from the guys in the trenches: Eagles defensive coordinator, Juan Castillo, when asked after 13 years coaching the offensive line how he felt seeing his defense give up a 47 yard touchdown run on the first play: “ I’ve got to do a better job teaching our guys what gaps they’re responsible for.” Sounds like Andy Reid.
Comment from left guard Evan Mathis: “We trust and believe in the game plan. We just kept doing what we were doing and eventually it started clicking.” Right guard Kyle DeVan, who has been here just a week: “I’m not disappointed where we’re at offensively. I think we’re in a great place and we’re going to get better from here on out.” And from rookie center, Jason Kelce: “Michael Vick is one of those rare breeds. He can make something happen when the original play is not there. He’s just a special player.”