Since the end of his postgame diatribe against late hits and officials Sunday, Vick has been the model of professionalism and maturity, apologizing for those remarks, promising not to make them again and expressing his determination to finally play all four quarters because he's tired of letting his teammates down. If you're an Eagles fan, or if you're Eagles coach Andy Reid, this is encouraging, because you need Vick to be right this week. You need everything to be right this week, and everything starts with Vick.
As early as it might still be in this young and crazy NFL season, Sunday's game against the San Francisco 49ers is nothing less than a must-win for Reid and the Eagles. A loss wouldn't eliminate the Eagles or get Reid fired, as some overreactive fans wish it would. But to lose at home to an NFC West team and wake up Monday morning at 1-3 would expose Reid to two things he doesn't appear to handle well -- adversity and outside criticism.
Reid's is an insular world in which things tend to work out for him. Issues related to the Eagles' roster get resolved by Reid, and they get resolved internally. He decides to replace Kevin Kolb with Vick as his starting quarterback when it looks like a questionable move from the outside. He decides to trade Donovan McNabb and Kolb because he thinks it's best for the short- and long-term health of the franchise. He'd rather hire his own offensive line coach as defensive coordinator than go out on the market and bring in someone he doesn't fully trust. Reid makes these decisions himself, and they tend to work out, which makes him even more sure of himself when it's time to make another one.
The shared characteristic of all those decisions is that they were made in times of Eagles prosperity. It's easy to make confident decisions about your roster and coaching staff when you're winning the division and making the playoffs every year. You feel flush with good choices, operating with the perspective that you almost can't make a mistake. Things have generally gone very well for Reid during his time in Philadelphia, and he's clearly very good at running his team when things are going well.
But Reid doesn't seem to operate well under adversity. Tom Coughlin and the Giants, they handle adversity. They've had a bunch of it in recent years (much of it at the hands of Reid), and they've sort of become experts in rallying around the idea that the odds and opinions are stacked against them. The Giants were outmanned in Week 3, but in large part because of the way the Eagles had handled them over the previous three seasons, they were the more determined team, and they channeled their anger, frustration and determination into a big win.
Reid and the Eagles should learn from that, because they don't have experience with it. They're usually on top, doling out the adversity. Their recent history is not one of coming back, of overcoming bad starts or major injuries. We don't know whether they're capable of handling the issues that would result from a 1-3 start, because they don't have a track record to show us. The closest example we have in the Reid era is 2003, when they started 0-2 and won 12 of their final 14. But that was eight years ago, when people had more patience, when every move wasn't being dissected 24 hours a day on hundreds of channels and websites and no one had yet imagined Twitter. That was a different time, and it was a long time ago.
If the Eagles start 1-3 this season, Reid might have to move practice out of town for a couple of weeks. Because the anger and venom emanating from the Eagles' fan base is going to reach fever-pitch levels. The questions that so clearly rankle Reid in the wake of losses will become a relentless assault of the sort he does not handle with grace. Early season expectations have never been higher for the Eagles than they are this season, and a 1-3 start would prompt a gleeful avalanche of outside criticism from people who have been hoping it wouldn't work out. Heck, a 2-2 start isn't going to make anyone in Philadelphia happy, so 1-3 strays well out of the realm of the acceptable.
Reid knows this, of course, but the question is whether he knows how to handle it. He has shown a deft touch, over the course of his Eagles coaching career, for managing his roster and handling internal issues internally. But he hasn't had to dig his team out of a big early hole, and he clearly doesn't like the idea of people questioning him when things aren't going the right way.
That's why Sunday's game is a must-win for Reid and the Eagles. They're used to having things go the right way, and we don't know whether they can handle it when they don't.