PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Michael Vick sauntered through a hallway at the Eagles’ practice facility and paused to glance at a framed picture of the team’s last NFC championship celebration.
That victory was eight years ago against Vick and the Atlanta Falcons. The pressure is on Vick to deliver now.
The Eagles have one of the youngest teams in the league, but they’re also built to win this year. Anything less may cost coach Andy Reid his job. Owner Jeffrey Lurie already gave that directive, saying another 8-8 finish would be unacceptable.
“We’re going out and playing for our coach and we’re playing for our organization,” Vick said Wednesday. “It’s not just about Coach Reid, it’s about the organization as a whole, the Philadelphia Eagles. We want to go out and represent, as players, the best we can for this team and we’re going to go out and make it happen. We’re all playing for Coach Reid, we’re playing for Mr. Lurie and we’re playing for each other.”
Vick has plenty to prove this season. He had a remarkable 2010, leading the Eagles to an NFC East title, earning a spot as the starting quarterback in the Pro Bowl and winning the AP Comeback Player of the Year award. Vick then was rewarded with a $100 million contract last August, just two years after the Eagles gave him a second chance in the NFL following his release from federal prison.
But with enormous expectations, Vick and the rest of the Eagles underachieved in 2011. Despite the team closing with a four-game winning streak over non-playoff teams, Vick seemed to regress into a turnover-prone, reckless player. He had 14 interceptions and lost four fumbles. He threw just six picks and lost four fumbles in 2010.
Staying healthy also was a problem. Vick couldn’t finish two games in September because of injuries and sat out three others with broken ribs. The Eagles went 1-4 in those five games. They finished 8-8 and just one game behind the eventual Super Bowl-champion New York Giants. So, one game, one play even, could’ve made all the difference.
Vick had trouble staying on the field in this preseason, too. He hurt his thumb in the first game and injured his ribs in the next one. He took just 12 snaps total and missed the last two games.
Still, Vick will be ready to go in the opener at Cleveland on Sunday.
“I feel good,” he said. “I feel like I’m 100 percent, no nagging injuries. I feel I’m fully recovered. The last two weeks really have helped me get there and I’m ready to go out there and give it all I got. My arm is in great shape and my body is in great shape. I’m just excited about our opportunities and I’m excited about where we’re at.”
Of course, Reid would’ve preferred to have Vick play a little more last month. He led the Eagles to just one first down and the first-team offense wasn’t sharp at all.
“That’s what it was,” Reid said. “He has enough experience that I expect him to go in and perform well.”
Vick has plenty of weapons surrounding him. All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy, two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver DeSean Jackson, wideout Jeremy Maclin and tight end Brent Celek make this a dynamic offense. But it all starts with Vick avoiding injuries.
Vick played all 16 games just once in his nine-year career. Given his history, it’s easy to label him injury-prone. Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg have stressed to Vick the importance of sliding instead of taking hits when he scrambles, though most of his injuries have occurred in the pocket.
“You can’t control injuries,” wide receiver Jason Avant said. “I don’t believe he’s injury-prone at all. I believe some guys have taken good shots at him and if you take a lot of shots, you’re going to get hurt and that’s with any position. Those labels aren’t true. They only become true if he believes them. We expect him to play well and this team needs him to play well.”
Reid’s future in Philadelphia could depend on it.