EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The bus was waiting, and so was the rest of the season as Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson, and LeSean McCoy shouldered their travel bags and went down the long corridor at MetLife Stadium, chattering loudly after a game for the first time in a month.
If you didn't know which of them had come out of the game just before halftime - yanking a hamstring to get around the corner on Mike Patterson, of all things - then you wouldn't have known it was Vick. Professional football players don't walk like runway models. They all have a little attitude in their stride that betrays a defiance of the pain their jobs entail. There was nothing out of the ordinary among the three of them this time.
That unscientific observation is one way of saying that Vick again will be the starting quarterback for the Eagles next Sunday in Tampa. Another observation, no more scientific, is that he shouldn't be.
Whether it is time for Nick Foles, who was very good in taking over for Vick, to get the start is beside the point, because this season isn't about sorting out the difference between those two quarterbacks. This season is about putting Chip Kelly's offensive vision into place for the players who still will be around when he gets the right quarterback to execute it. This season is also a classroom for Kelly to learn what will work and what will not work from his personal playbook of ideas.
It is a given, an article of faith, that Vick will not last 16 games as a starter. That is his history since he came back to football and landed with the Eagles. He has missed at least one play in three of the five games this season, but was able to return after shaking off injury in the first two situations. On Sunday, he wasn't himself after straining his left hamstring, but a few days of treatment could easily put him back on the field.
Until the next injury. And the next. And there will be a next.
If Kelly is committed to learning everything he can about the NFL and how his system fits it, he should give Vick the luxury of a week off, just to make sure the hamstring is healed and won't become a chronic problem. He should give himself the learning experience of designing a game plan for Foles, who brings a different set of advantages and disadvantages to the field.
Kelly would have the chance, with Foles as the starter, to figure out how LeSean McCoy might remain effective without a quarterback who serves as a legitimate running threat. McCoy wasn't that great on Sunday with Vick in the game, but his rushing game almost disappeared with Foles in there.
Also with Foles, Kelly could work with a quarterback who gets the ball out of his hands right away, an attribute that opens up a lot more of the quick, underneath routes that keep drives going, eat the clock, and really wear out opposing defenses.
Foles isn't necessarily better than Vick. That's really unknown. When both are fully healthy, Kelly obviously thinks Vick has the edge, and he promised that his regular starter would play against the Bucs if he recovers from the hamstring injury. But Foles is different from Vick, and that makes it intriguing to find out in what ways different is better.
"We look at Nick Foles and Mike Vick as two starters. I felt both played very well," McCoy said. "When Nick came in, we're still confident, same as when Mike is in there."
Foles led them to a field goal in the two-minute offense just before the half when he took over for Vick, and to another field goal just before the end of the third quarter, a decent drive that was short-circuited by a sack.
In the fourth quarter, Foles threw two very nice touchdown passes to put away the game, but he didn't have to drive the team far to get them. Both were set up by Eli Manning interceptions. Still, the throw back across the field to Brent Celek and the precise dart to Jackson were exactly what the Eagles needed, and really haven't been getting in those situations.
"I felt comfortable throughout the whole game," Foles said. "We needed to get things going, and this win was a team win. I'm excited to be on the bus and be with the team."
He came in and went 16 for 25 for 197 yards and the two touchdowns despite getting very limited reps with the first team during practice. He gets a few chances with the starters, and otherwise has to stay ready by running the scout team (someone else's playbook) and getting in extra throws after practice.
Foles will be playing again at some point this season. Kelly now has a handy opportunity to give him a start and build a week of practice and planning around him. If that doesn't work out well, then at least Vick will be fully healed.
Maybe it won't be win-win, but it will be learn-learn, and that, after all, is what the season is really about.