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PHILADELPHIA -- Less than seven minutes remained and the Philadelphia Eagles trailed the New York Giants on Sunday night by one point. Michael Vick stepped into the huddle before the Eagles began their final drive and delivered a message:
"Let's go score," he said. "Let's stay calm. Run the plays that are called. Everyone do your job. And let's go score."
Score. Stay poised. Play within yourself. And perhaps most important for this team in that situation was what Vick didn't say: Don't turn the ball over.
We're one-fourth through the NFL regular season, where occurrences have led to trends that have morphed into identities. Four games into the season, teams are taking shape. If something happens once, it can be chalked up as an accident. But one game has led to another and another and another. We have an adequate sample size.
We know that Houston and Atlanta appear to be the most complete teams, that New Orleans is missing its leader, that Arizona's defense looks really good and that Tom Brady to Wes Welker is still a connection New England will use. We know that the New York Giants are Eli Manning's team and it doesn't matter who his receivers are, he will get them the ball. We know that if the Giants are going to succeed, it will probably come down to Manning's making it happen.
|Michael Vick has orchestrated three fourth-quarter comebacks so far this season.|
And we know that the Eagles aren't going to quit. They won't be intimidated by a situation. They might make mistakes but they also will make plays, because their quarterback fears nothing. Not a player, a defense or a situation. Vick might make a mistake, but it won't be because the moment overcomes him.
It didn't overcome him Sunday night, when Vick led marched the Eagles 75 yards in 12 plays to set up the game-winning Alex Henery field goal that gave Philadelphia a 19-17 win over the Giants.
This Eagles team is a product of the one that failed so miserably a year ago. Starting 4-8 and missing the playoffs by a single game, being a laughingstock, having "dream team" rubbed in their faces -- it all humbled these players. It was embarrassing. It motivated them not to allow it to happen again.
And because the quarterback has been remarkably clutch late in games this season -- an accolade widely reserved for the Giants' starting quarterback -- the Eagles are 3-1 and atop the NFC East standings pending the outcome of Monday night's game between Dallas and Chicago.
Just in the month of September, Vick orchestrated three fourth-quarter comebacks and three game-winning drives -- at Cleveland, against Baltimore and then against the Giants. Last season, Vick had zero fourth-quarter comebacks and zero game-winning drives. In 2010, the season he supplanted Kevin Kolb as the Eagles' starter, he had four fourth-quarter comebacks and three game-winning drives.
Say what you want about all of the turnovers -- nine in the first three games, and zero last night -- but Vick has been clutch. His confidence has trickled down to the offense, the defense and the special teams. The Eagles have won three games by a combined four points. They have played well at times and horrendously at times, but the end result is what ultimately matters.
"Last year, there's a good chance we would've lost that game," said cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie."I don't know if it's we're winning games we didn't win last year or not," said wide receiver Jason Avant, "but I think we're just a lot different mentally."
That certainly appears to be the case, given how fragile the team was a year ago. This team hasn't quit, even in the blowout loss to Arizona in Week 3. Against the Giants, Philadelphia struggled to create a pocket for Vick. It couldn't get its run game going, and it struggled to get into the end zone.
After leading 7-3 at halftime, the Eagles committed to running LeSean McCoy. They controlled the clock. They moved the ball. Vick made plays with his legs when he had to and Andy Reid leaned on McCoy. The offense was able to make plays, and the defense held the Giants to 17 points and drew a crucial offensive pass interference penalty on New York's final drive. That helped make the potential game-winning field goal a 54-yarder rather than something shorter.
"I like the personality of this team, and I like the grit," Reid said afterward. "They are willing to fight."
Their quarterback certainly is. He was under fire last week in Philadelphia after all the turnovers and what looked to some like lucky wins. Vick took too many chances. He looked careless at times. Reid and Vick both said it took a little time for Vick to shake off the rust of missing much of the preseason, and maybe that's the case. Maybe the turnovers really will even out. Maybe the Giants game, where the Eagles had no turnovers, really is more indicative of how they will protect the football.
"Ya'll give me enough flak about it; I'll take care of it," Vick said.
This is one quarter, four games, of a long, 16-game season that will ebb and flow. But one thing is evident: This team will not quit. That is part of their identity. They can win in the fourth quarter, and not every team can.
"We have a never-say-die attitude," Vick said. "We never allow things to get out of control like last year, and we believe in one another. Always have, always will. That was evident tonight. I'm thankful. I'm thankful for the guys that we have in this locker room, and I appreciate them. I've still got 12 more games, and we've got to keep pushing."
Keep pushing. Keep winning. If the defending Super Bowl champion taught us anything last season, it is that being clutch and having the ability to win in the fourth quarter are invaluable attributes.