MICHAEL VICK, of all people, knows about second chances. And Vick thinks he sees another opportunity to right a significant wrong when he takes stock of the 2012 Eagles. "We've got a do-over," Vick said. "A chance to erase what happened last year, when there was so much expectation and we fell flat. This year we've got a chance to get it right."
Little went according to plan in Philadelphia in 2011. Postlockout, the Eagles jumped into the free-agency frenzy with both feet, signing one star after another and assembling what the club's ex--backup quarterback Vince Young labeled a "Dream Team." The new-look Eagles would outgain opponents by nearly 1,200 yards and outscore them by 68. (The Super Bowl champion Giants, by contrast, had a 139-yard edge on opponents and were outscored by six points.) Philadelphia, however, was done in by a -14 turnover differential and five squandered fourth-quarter leads during a nightmarish 4--8 start. Even the balm of a season-ending four-game winning streak and a .500 finish didn't make up for missing the playoffs in coach Andy Reid's unlucky 13th season in Philadelphia.
No one seems more bent on making amends for that than the Eagles' starting quarterback, who has drawn rave reviews for his dedication this off-season. Vick, who in June got married and turned 32, knows he's running out of time as he enters his fourth season in Philadelphia.
"You reach a certain point in your career where you feel like it's time to make that [Super Bowl] run," says Vick, who is 2--3 as a playoff starter. "I know I'm not going to play as long into the future as I've already played in this league. I feel like this is the time. It's because of how much talent we have on this team."
Vick's singular focus this off-season has been evident on the practice field, in the weight room and in the locker room, where he tried to set a leadership example for which he'd not previously been known. Eagles G.M. Howie Roseman tells a story about one nondescript day this off-season in which he found Vick throwing alone on the practice field at 4 p.m., refusing to skip his work even though a family function had kept him from the team complex for most of the day. "I said, 'Mike, what's going on?'" Roseman recalls. "He said, 'I'm not missing a day.' That was his attitude, and I think you have to have a sense of urgency in this business, because you don't have a lot of seasons."
Last year's stars may have come together too late; this season's edition seems to have a much-improved vibe, from Vick on down. The front office created a better working environment partly by handing out contract extensions to such key playmakers as receiver DeSean Jackson, running back LeSean McCoy and defensive end Trent Cole. But the team has also had a full off-season to jell, which should help second-year defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, the converted Eagles offensive line coach whose unit struggled mightily to tackle, stop the run or protect fourth-quarter leads in the first three months of last season.
Philly expects the trade for former Texans middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans to plug the gaping hole in the heart of the Eagles' defense, but much more is also expected from Nnamdi Asomugha, who apparently left his shutdown corner skills in Oakland when he relocated to Philadelphia during last summer's signing spree.
But for the Eagles to make the most of their do-over this season, they've got to have something closer to the 2010-style Vick, who electrified the NFL with his return to prominence, rather than the 2011 version, who struggled with turnovers (a career-worst 14 interceptions) and staying healthy (three missed starts). He also had just one rushing touchdown, eight fewer than in the previous season. "Mike's the key to all of this," said the versatile McCoy, who set a team record with 20 touchdowns in 2011 and had 1,624 yards from scrimmage. "He knows that. And his attitude this year is different, just his will to win. He's on top of even the small things. I think he realizes the time is now. We all do."
WITH 2011 STATS
OFFENSE 2011 RANK: 4
*2010 college stats
(N) New acquisition
(R) Rookie--College stats
TTD Total touchdowns
SACKS Sacks allowed
HOLD Holding penalties
FALSE False starts
2011 Record: 8--8
9 at Cleveland
23 at Arizona
30 New York Giants
7 at Pittsburgh
5 at New Orleans (Mon)
18 at Washington
26 Carolina (Mon)
2 at Dallas
9 at Tampa Bay
13 Cincinnati (Thu)
30 at New York Giants
The Eagles knew what they needed when they went shopping for a middle linebacker this off-season; they just didn't know where they'd find him. "It was important for our football team to go out and get a quarterback for our defense," G.M. Howie Roseman says. Philadelphia has been searching for the next Jeremiah Trotter since Trotter parted ways with the team (for the third time) after the 2009 season.
Enter Ryans, the Texans' two-time Pro Bowl selection and a strong locker room presence. "They didn't necessarily want to get rid of him," says Eagles coach Andy Reid. "They just had cap issues and kind of had to. Plus he was playing in their 3--4 defense last year, and I think he's a 4--3 middle linebacker." Philly swapped third-round picks with Houston and shipped a fourth-round pick to the Texans in exchange for their alltime leading tackler. Ryans suffered a torn Achilles tendon in 2010, and it wasn't until the final month of last season that he began to resemble the player who'd averaged more than 100 tackles a year over his first four seasons. The Eagles believe he's all the way back now and will end the gouging the Philly run defense endured last year.
Percentage of passing plays in '11 in which Michael Vick was pressured, behind only the Broncos' Tim Tebow (43.4) and the Vikings' Donovan McNabb (41.1)
Average number of seconds that Vick spent in the pocket, the second-highest figure in the league, behind Tebow, now with the Jets.
Number of snaps on which Brent Celek—a presumed pure receiving weapon—stayed in to pass protect, tops in the league for tight ends.
SIMON BRUTY (VICK)
Vick put up some career numbers in '11, but Philly was done in by turnovers and fourth-quarter meltdowns.
BRIAN GARFINKEL/AP (RYANS)