NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Michael Vick and Drew Brees came into the NFL the same year.
Now, they’re in the same predicament: trying to bail out two increasingly desperate teams, both teetering on the edge of collapse.
Brees has essentially become a one-man show for the New Orleans Saints (2-5), who are plagued by a historically leaky defense and anemic running game, not to mention the lingering effects of a bounty scandal.
For Vick, the stakes are even higher in Monday night’s game at the Superdome. He’s the face of the struggling Eagles (3-4), who have lost three straight games, and facing weekly questions about his job security.
If Vick fails to shine against the Saints — who are giving up 50 yards more per game than the next-worst team — embattled Philadelphia coach Andy Reid might have little choice except to change QBs, despite giving No. 7 a strong vote of confidence.
“Things could be a lot better,” Vick said. “Not only myself but everybody on this team feels like there is more that they can do to help put us in position to be satisfied with our record. In this game, you just have to keep pushing and try to keep getting better every week.”
Brees is having another stellar year statistically, ranking second in the league in yards passing, but there’s no room for error. When he struggled last week against the Denver Broncos, the Saints were blown out 34-14.
“I feel like we’ve gotten better every week with the exception of last week,” Brees said. “We just did not play up to our standard, certainly with the hype going into that game, and we were all hurt by it. But it also lights a fire within all of us that we don’t want that to be the lasting memory people have of our team. We’re better than that, and we need to show them on Monday night.”
Vick was the top overall pick by the Atlanta Falcons in 2001, the same year Brees was taken with the first pick of the second round by the San Diego Chargers. Of the 11 quarterbacks drafted that year, they are the only two still on an NFL roster.
“I feel like I’ve known him a long time,” Brees said. “He’s obviously had a lot of success in this league, both in Atlanta and in Philly.”
Not so much this season.
Vick has turned it over 13 times — eight interceptions and five fumbles — and he’s coming off a pedestrian performance in Philadelphia’s ugly 30-17 loss to the Falcons. Right after the game, a frustrated Reid sounded like he might switch to rookie Nick Foles. Then, after thinking it over, the coach stressed that Vick remains the starter, for this week and beyond.
“Michael was the quarterback, is the quarterback and will continue to be the quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles,” Reid said. “I can’t make it any more clear than that.”
Then again, there’s just as much speculation in Philadelphia about Reid’s long-term prospects. Owner Jeffrey Lurie put the coach on notice after last season’s disappointing 8-8 finish, and the challenge seemed to work when the Eagles started off with three wins in their first four games — by a total of four points. Then, the defense squandered late leads in losses to Pittsburgh and Detroit, costing coordinator Juan Castillo his job.
“It’s important that I get my job going in the right direction and making sure that we win football games and that I coach to win football games,” Reid said. “We’re all accountable for it. We’re all stand-up men and we understand our responsibilities and we’ve got to do better. But it starts with me.”
Defense isn’t the only concern. Despite a seeming abundance of playmakers, from Vick to running back LeSean McCoy to receiver DeSean Jackson, the Eagles are a dismal 28th in scoring, averaging just 17.1 points a game.
Scoring is usually not a problem for the Saints, who are sixth in the league with a 27.1-point average, but the defense has totally collapsed without coordinator Gregg Williams, who was banished by his league for his role in the alleged bounty program.
New Orleans is the first team since at least 1950 — and very likely in the history of the NFL — to surrender more than 400 yards in seven straight games. At this rate (474.7), the Saints will shatter the 31-year-old record for yards in a season, set by the Colts when they were still in Baltimore.
Just how bad is this defense? New Orleans is more than 200 yards worse than league-leading San Francisco (271.4). In fact, the Saints aren’t even close to 31st-ranked Buffalo (424.1).
“If I had the answer, I would say something and everything would be solved,” linebacker Scott Shanle moaned. “Everybody has a different explanation, different theories. It hasn’t been what we thought it would be so far. All we can do is try to keep getting better and see what happens from here on out.”
The Saints also rank last in the league in rushing (72.6 yards), and they’ll have to get by this week without all-purpose stud Darren Sproles, who is sidelined with a broken hand.
Which puts even more of a burden on Brees.
“We can’t look at the rest of our schedule. We can’t look at our division,” he said. “We can’t look at anything other than how do we win this week?”