PHILADELPHIA -- This one might have some staying power. No one really knew what to make of the Philadelphia Eagles' win over the Atlanta Falcons three weeks ago because it's impossible to get a read on the NFC.
But beating a team led by Peyton Manning still carries some weight in this league. And on Sunday, the best quarterback on the field suited up for the Eagles. We wondered how Michael Vick would respond following a month off for what he's now saying were three broken ribs. Would he err on the side of caution after being served up as a violent sandwich between two Redskins defenders?
The answer Sunday was a resounding no, although Vick wisely stepped out of bounds a time or two in a 26-24 win over the Colts, decisions that were applauded by coach Andy Reid following the game.
"It's hard because you don't want to take anything away from his game," said Reid. "You know he did run out of bounds one time. I was really fired up about that. He's making a little progress."
Both Vick and the Eagles' defense teamed up do something pretty rare, which was making Manning look human for much of Sunday's game. And unlike what happened two weeks ago in Tennessee, the Eagles didn't crater when the Colts overcame a 13-point deficit to lead 17-16 at halftime. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg told me after the game that players were reminded constantly last week that there would be momentum shifts because of the presence of Manning.
That shift occurred with 2:23 left in the first half. Eagles safety Quintin Mikell separated Colts wide receiver Austin Collie from the ball with what appeared to be a clean hit. Collie pin-balled into Eagles rookie safety Kurt Coleman and their helmets collided. Collie remained motionless for several minutes before being strapped onto a backboard and carted off the field. The lengthy delay seemed to deflate the Eagles, but it had the opposite effect on the Colts, who scored twice to take the halftime lead. Collie suffered a concussion but he was alert by halftime and had regained full motion in his arms and legs.
"They know what's happened in the past, and one of the things that we looked at during the bye week was just that," said Reid. "The players and coaches challenged themselves as individuals to make sure that we maintained the intensity through four quarters, and I thought we did that."
Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott had come under fire for the way his unit collapsed in the fourth quarter of a loss to the Titans, but he put together a game plan Sunday that appeared to baffle the great Manning at times. Starting safety Nate Allen was knocked out of the game early in the second quarter and Dimitri Patterson was starting in place of Ellis Hobbs, who was embarrassed by Titans wide receiver Kenny Britt. As Manning went through his maddening pre-snap routine, you kept thinking the Eagles would be exposed. But it was Manning who looked confused while throwing two interceptions to cornerback Asante Samuel, who relied on lessons he learned when he was with the New England Patriots.
"Yeah, you've got to give him a lot of different looks and try to confuse him as much as possible," said Samuel. "The guy is a really smart guy, he studies a lot and once he figures out what you're in, he's going to dissect you a lot. So that was the whole thing this week was to confuse him, play around as much as possible and never let him know what coverage you're in."
The Colts were held scoreless in the second half until there was 1:50 left in the game. But when Manning had the ball in his hands with 40 seconds left and no timeouts, you still had the sense that he'd do something special. Vick was asked what was going through his mind when Manning lined up for that final drive.
"Let me tell you something about Peyton Manning," he said. "Every time he's out on the field, you think he's going to score a touchdown. And that's just how precise he is, that's how smart he is, that's the type of player that he's become and that's how hard he's worked throughout his career."
Vick acknowledged that he told Reid this past week that the Eagles have what it takes to make a run at the Super Bowl. And with how wide open the NFC appears to be, Philadelphia could certainly get on a roll. The Eagles still need to show more consistency, but this was the type of signature win they could use as a springboard for the closing stretch.
At 5-3, the Eagles still have five games remaining against NFC East opponents. They trail the New York Giants (6-2) by one game and they'll have a chance to put the Redskins (4-4) in a deep hole when they visit FedEx Field next Monday night.
"We played against one of the best today -- one of the best teams in this league and one of the best quarterbacks, hands down," said Vick. "We were able to pull it out, so that gives us a great deal of confidence moving forward."