Brutal day leaves Eagles with far more unknowns than knowns
Andy Reid's team has a lot of questions which need answering after Sunday's loss
Michael Vick came off the bench for an injured Kevin Kolb and played well
Green Bay's tough 27-20 victory took a physical, punishing toll on the Eagles
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PHILADELPHIA -- The start of the NFL regular season is when we're supposed to begin getting our questions answered about every team, but somehow the Philadelphia Eagles have far more unknowns tonight than they did when the day began.
The first real chapter of the life-after-Donovan-McNabb era in Philadelphia was a very strange one indeed, and now no one knows exactly what to expect regarding Andy Reid's Eagles going forward. Sixteen NFL teams will exit Week 1 with a defeat on their record, and Philadelphia is among that number, thanks to Green Bay's 27-20 victory at Lincoln Financial Field. But will any club take so many different issues into Week 2? Was any team beaten up more than the Eagles in the course of getting beaten?
In some descending order of significance, the questions in Philadelphia go something like this:
Will Kevin Kolb's shaky and injury-shortened debut as the successor to McNabb do any real damage to his coronation/installation as the Eagles' starting quarterback?
Does Michael Vick's Denard Robinson-like work in relief of Kolb -- 103 yards rushing, 175 yards passing, 101.9 passer rating and 17 points on the board -- demand he immediately be considered as a potential starting option for the Eagles?
And how will Philadelphia's roster begin to recover from a brutal day that saw four starters knocked out, including almost certain season-ending injuries to center Jamaal Jackson (torn biceps) and fullback Leonard Weaver (torn ACL)?
The ramifications of Vick's unexpectedly good game and what it might mean for Kolb and the Eagles' season was the headline development on this day. This being Philadelphia, you get the feeling that this will be a story with some legs, as they say. Kolb, the fourth-year vet whose promise inspired the McNabb trade in April, was knocked out of the game with a concussion in the first half, briefly returned, and then left for good after halftime when his vision never completely cleared.
Kolb was just 5-of-10 for 24 yards, with a pair of sacks and a 56.2 QB rating when he left, and the Eagles offense had featured little or no life. He was under serious pass rush pressure almost every time he dropped into the pocket, and a hit from Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews resulted in the concussion and necessitated the Eagles' switch to Vick.
Flashing some of his vintage Atlanta form, Vick wound up playing on all six of the Eagles' second-half possessions and part of two first-half drives, easily his most extensive action since returning to the NFL last year after missing the 2007 and 2008 seasons while in prison. He appeared on all four of Philly's scoring drives and, after the game, made an eye-opening assessment that perhaps will reverberate this week within the Eagles locker room and among the team's fans.
"I feel like if I had been out there for four quarters, maybe we would have had a chance to win the game,'' said Vick, who was asked if he felt like his play was a step toward becoming an NFL starter again one day. "But it's all hindsight now.''
Maybe so, but that doesn't mean the topic is going to go away, even if Reid quickly affirmed after the game that Kolb would remain his starter if healthy for next week's game at Detroit. Kolb wasn't made available after the game, though he was seen in the locker room, and his teammates sounded cautiously hopeful that a full-blown quarterback controversy wasn't on the way.
"I'm not going to say I would rather not see it (a change at quarterback),'' receiver DeSean Jackson said, noting the change in rhythm between the pocket passer Kolb and Vick, the running threat. "But it's unfortunate [Kolb] has to go down with an injury and Vick has to come in. It's tough on the rhythm, practicing all week with Kolb and then having Vick come in. It threw us off a bit, but we just had to do the best we could.''
Vick and the Eagles offense faired pretty darn well without that sense of rhythm. Down 13-3 to Green Bay at the half, and 20-3 midway through the third, Vick brought the Eagles back and helped them scratch and claw their way within seven points. Philadelphia had the ball and a chance to tie in the final minutes, but its last drive ended when Vick was stuffed on an ill-advised quarterback keeper (out of the shotgun formation) on 4th-and-1 at the Green Bay 42.
But Vick's 103 yards rushing marked his 10th career 100-yard ground game, and his first since late November 2006. An Eagles quarterback hasn't run for more since McNabb rolled for 107 against the Giants in 2002, and it was only the fifth time in Vick's career he topped triple digits in both rushing and passer rating (101.9). With him in, it went from looking like a sizable Green Bay blowout to a fairly tense, taut finish.
For the first time in years, Vick was clearly feeling it again by the start of the fourth quarter, and the Packers defense wore itself out chasing him around the field. Vick made some mistakes, but his legs looked fresher and quicker than they did at any time last season and he threw several nice passes, including a 17-yard scoring toss to receiver Jeremy Maclin, making it 27-17 with 10:23 remaining.
"I think Michael did a phenomenal job today,'' Reid said when asked if Vick could win the starting job regardless of Kolb's injury status. "He brought the team back, he kept his poise, and he had some big runs, and he made some big throws. I'm happy as heck for Michael. But I'm not looking into the future, I'm trying to get (the offense) fixed so that we can win some football games here.''
Reid's artful dodge of the quarterback controversy topic is understandable. This was Week 1, and the Eagles have invested three years developing Kolb and his game. You can't throw it all out the window when he struggles in the first half of his first game as the team's new starter. But having had a real taste of playing time again, you wonder if Vick's patience will allow him to revert back to his modest role as the team's Wildcat quarterback? My hunch is he won't go as quietly as he did in 2009.
"Honestly, I felt good when I was out there,'' Vick said. "I felt like I could play three or four more quarters. So that's a good thing. My legs [weren't] tired. I felt like I'm in shape, in great shape. I felt like I battled and I fought, and I had the instinct and desire to win. I had the old feel back and that's a good thing.''
But that was about the only good thing to emerge from this disaster of an Eagles loss. Jamaal Jackson and Weaver are big subtractions to suffer, and Weaver's gruesome knee injury was the kind of moment that sickens everyone who sees it. On top of that, there were concussions for both Kolb and starting linebacker Stewart Bradley -- both of whom were reinserted into the game briefly, a surprising development in this era of the NFL's concussion efforts -- and a knee sprain to left offensive tackle Jason Peters (he returned and stayed in the game). Kolb and Bradley will be evaluated this week, but don't be surprised if both of them miss at least a week or more.
"It was like a domino effect, guys just started falling and dropping,'' Vick said. "That's why I'm so proud of all the guys who stepped up and fought. Guys had to come off the bench and had to fill roles and play -- [to] run and execute plays that they hadn't had a chance to [practice]. It's a credit to them paying attention in meetings and being ready for whatever.''
Being ready for whatever looks like it may be the Eagles' mantra for the foreseeable future. Vick was ready on Sunday when he was needed and who can say exactly what the future holds for him, Kolb and the Eagles in 2010? In Philadelphia, as Week 2 of the new season looms, the questions still far out-number the answers.
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