x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

A new controversy for Vick again

The Eagles invite second-guessing, staking their season on a rehabilitated quarterback who is hitting on 64 per cent of his passes – 10 per cent above his career rate.

Michael Vick will start for the Eagles today. Tami Chappell / Reuters
Michael Vick will start for the Eagles today. Tami Chappell / Reuters

The Eagles invite second-guessing, staking their season on a rehabilitated quarterback, writes Mike Tierney Michael Vick is caught in the crossfire of controversy. This time, he could not be happier. Vick is forever tainted by his involvement in killing and torturing dogs, which has earned him more scorn than spouse-abusers from a segment of pro football followers. After he served nearly two years in prison, most teams would not dare touch the three-time Pro Bowler.

To considerable outcry, the Philadelphia Eagles brought him on last year, primarily for the specialized, run-first role of "wildcat" quarterback. When the Eagles traded the veteran Donovan McNabb in the off-season, the coach, Andy Reid, proclaimed it the dawn of the Kevin Kolb era. But Kolb was injured in his first game, giving way to a new-old Michael Vick. The apparently wiser Vick showed he has shed the daredevil attitude that compelled him to take off on foot when his primary receiver was covered. Exercising rare patience in the pocket during his two games, he is hitting on 64 per cent of his passes - 10 per cent above his career rate.

With Kolb mended this week, Reid first stuck to the credo that players do not lose starting jobs because of injury. He declared Kolb back as the starter. Then the coach called a stunning audible: Vick would remain in the lineup this week - and beyond. "When someone is playing at the level Michael Vick is playing, you have to give him an opportunity," Reid said. The Philadelphia media went ballistic, firing away at Reid for alleged shortsightedness. Their argument: if Kolb is the future, why defer it for a 30-year-old guy with baggage who will be gone whenever the Eagles become Super Bowl-worthy again?

Even Vick expected to give way to the Eagles' golden boy. "It's not going to be difficult at all," he said last week in anticipation of returning to back-up status. Reid said he is comfortable being "the bad guy" for waffling on his quarterbacks. So far, the debate has not affixed the bad-guy tag to Vick, despite his sordid past, though we have not heard yet from animal rights groups. If Vick can possibly feel any more pressure than what is bearing down on him just to salvage his reputation and football career, he now may carry the future of the coach who gave him a chance when no other would.

"There were plenty of times when I doubted I would ever have the opportunity to play again in this league," said Vick, the latest doubt following a shooting at his summer birthday party. "It's very gratifying that now I have worked myself back into a position where I could help this football team win games."

Today’s top games

• Dallas at Houston. The Cowboys’ goal of playing a Super Bowl in their palatial stadium could go up in smoke just three weeks into the season, if they lose. The Texans rank first in offense, the quarterback Matt Schaub, below, is an early MVP candidate and the home team will be jazzed against its more renowned in-state rival.

• Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay.

A battle of surprising unbeatens. The Steelers have won twice while Ben Roethlisberger serves a four-game suspension. The Buccaneers were widely predicted to win two games all season. Points will be hard to come by: Pittsburgh has allowed one touchdown, Tampa Bay three.

• Atlanta at New Orleans.

The defending champion Saints continue to win by the skin of their teeth. They would welcome an easy victory in the Big Easy, with the winner taking charge in the NFC South. No team was as dominant as the Falcons in Week 2, and the Saints will miss Reggie Bush.

Also today

Tennessee at NY Giants

San Francisco at Kansas City

Buffalo at New England

Cleveland at Baltimore

Detroit at Minnesota

Cincinnati at Carolina

Washington at St. Louis

Philadelphia at Jacksonville

Indianapolis at Denver

Oakland at Arizona

San Diego at Seattle

NY Jets at Miami

Tomorrow

Green Bay at Chicago

Stat of the week

The New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees, renowned for finding any open receiver, has completed passes to 10 different Saints this season – including himself. He caught a tipped ball and gained seven yards.

sports@thenational.ae