- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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ST. LOUIS -- Michael Vick was spectacular Sunday, but you already knew he could do spectacular. A year ago, maybe, if he'd thrown two touchdown passes and rushed for 98 yards in the same game, it might have been big news. Instead, it's just Vick being Vick -- the game's most athletic quarterback showing off his inimitable ability to turn a busted or well-covered play into a 15-yard run for a first down.
"The only thing I can dwell on right now is the stuff we didn't do well," Vick said. "I'm thankful for the victory, don't get me wrong. I just wish it could have been a little cleaner. But that's what it's about. It's work."
Vick sounded like a coach right there -- deflecting a question about how well he, DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy looked in rolling up 404 yards of total offense against the Rams and talking instead of things that could have gone better. Didn't sound like the "Nobody can design an offense to stop me" guy from whom we've been hearing so much in recent interviews. That was a Peyton Manning kind of thing to say -- the part about wishing things had been cleaner. And it tells you a lot about where Vick is right now in his career and where he intends to go.
"In years past, he might have gone out there and played on athletic ability alone," Eagles guard Evan Mathis said. "But now they're giving him more responsibility, and the more responsibility he takes on, the better that makes him and the better that makes us."
For example: This year, Vick is allowed to call the offensive line protection -- and to change it up on a given play if he sees something in the defense that dictates that he should. That's new this year. It's something new offensive line coach Howard Mudd likes quarterbacks to be able to do, and Eagles head coach Andy Reid said it's part of Vick's continued development as a quarterback. Reid said the coaching staff loaded Vick up with tape and information on protection and opponent blitzes from last year and that Vick's lockout assignment was to study it. And once training camp started, Mathis said, there was a heavy emphasis on strategy and game plan, with Vick taking a leading role in the meeting rooms.
Sunday was the first real-game action since Vick began to take on all of this new responsibility, and there were a couple of times when it looked like a work in progress. Reid had to call a timeout in the first half when Vick appeared to call the wrong protection. But in general, the reviews were good.
"I think he did well with it," Reid said. "They threw a bunch of different looks at him and he was able to make some adjustments and handle it well, I thought."
Vick said his rushing-yards total was a direct result of the Rams' decision to send extra defenders after him. If there's a blitzing linebacker or defensive back for whom he's accountable, sometimes the best way to account for him is to take off and run. Vick obviously has an unusual ability to do that, and after the game he said he felt better and faster and quicker than he ever has before -- and that he'd welcome other teams to keep blitzing if that's what they feel is the best way to defend him.
"If teams want to do that each and every week, we have ways to stop it, and that's part of the reason I was able to run for 100 yards," Vick said. "It felt great just to know I can go out and play lights-out. I trained very hard this offseason, and I feel like I could play another four quarters right now."
Which has to be great for Vick, the Eagles and their fans to know. But even more encouraging has to be knowing how hard Vick has been working on the off-field aspects of his game -- at improving his craft and getting better at things that will make him a better quarterback and team leader.
"It's fun, studying all that and being out there working on picking up the blitz and trying to figure out what other teams are trying to do," Vick said. "We could have had more success with it than we did today, but it's only going to get better and help us as the season goes along."
We all know Vick can be spectacular. We've seen it for years, and we saw it again Sunday. There are plays that just look unfair sometimes -- plays when everyone is covered and the defense has done absolutely all it can do but Vick still just takes off and runs for the yards he needs. His physical ability isn't just something other teams can't stop -- it's something for which they can't practice, because they can't simulate his speed.
But the thing that will determine Vick's ultimate legacy as a quarterback is whether he views the position as a craft to be honed, and how hard he's willing to work at the mundane aspects of honing it. If he's committed to something like working in tandem with his offensive line, reading opposing defenses and calling the protections at the line, that means he's still willing and eager to develop as a quarterback, even at this stage in his career, and even in the wake of his big new contract.
And if you're an Eagles fan, that should be just as exciting as anything Vick did on the field Sunday.