ANDY REID told us Donovan McNabb "was fine with" having his offense interrupted by the presence of Michael Vick on virtually every second down in the first quarter of the Eagles' 33-32 preseason victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Reid invited reporters to ask McNabb about that.
When they did, McNabb's response did not exactly mirror Reid's.
McNabb was very supportive of Vick's return to football last night - "Everything he was asked to do, he did it well," McNabb said. But when McNabb was asked if he indicated to his coaches, as many TV viewers thought they saw him do, that it was time to cut out the gimmicks and get the real offense going, he said this:
"Absolutely. I did. In that situation, it's needed. I know what we were trying to do, and we were able to get that done. I thought it was time for us to try to get our offense going . . . I think it's important, regular season or preseason, to get that rhythm going, if you're going to show different looks, make sure it's the right time. That's what the preseason's for, to make sure you know when that time is. We'll get that time together."
Later, asked more explicitly about speaking or gesturing to the coaches, McNabb joked: "Yeah, I sat all of 'em down, and I told 'em, 'That's it!' "
McNabb earlier had said: "It's good that we did it in preseason, so that we all can get a feel for what we can do. But I think reality hit, as we continued on . . . that we needed to get the flow of the offense going."
When Reid was asked about that interruption of flow, he said: "If you're going to use that a little bit, then you have to work it in there. That's what we're going to do as we go down the road here. I expect the guys to make that part of the rhythm and make it work."
The six snaps Vick took, including one that was negated by penalty, might have gone a long way toward helping the reinstated quarterback get back his game legs, in his first NFL action since Dec. 31, 2006, also at Lincoln Financial Field, back when Vick was the Atlanta Falcons' superstar, before he went to prison for his role in a dogfighting ring. But they seemed less beneficial to the offense, which moved the ball in fits and starts and couldn't seem to run it at all, just as in the previous two preseason games.
Once again, in the first half the Eagles could do nothing in the red zone, or worse than nothing, handing the Jags a gift touchdown on an awkward, backward screen pass that was fumbled and returned 92 yards.
"It was great to finally get out there and get my feet wet and get a feel for the game again," Vick said. "It felt the same, it was almost like riding a bike, you never forget to do it."
When Vick took the field on the game's second snap, he received a warm ovation from a stadium that was still only two-thirds full.
"I didn't think it was going to be that positive," said Vick, who did not encounter any signs or demonstrations of protest inside the Linc. Whether no one bothered or security was extra vigilant wasn't clear. "I really didn't know what to expect. I was running out there on the field and I was listening to hear what the reaction was going to be, and I was very pleased."
Vick said he got a little carried away and tried to please the crowd by keeping the ball when he should have pitched it, his only rushing attempt, which gained 1 yard.
"I really didn't expect that reaction, but I'm very thankful," he said.
"Once I get myself into tip-top shape, the sky's the limit," said Vick, 29. "When I was younger, I did it all. I can do it all now. Down the road, I'll be back at the quarterback position full time. As of right now, I have to do what I can to win."
After practicing a bunch with Vick as a Wildcat quarterback in red-zone situations, the Eagles didn't use him that way at all. None of the trickery the Birds tried with Vick seemed to faze Jacksonville in the least. His most successful play was a straightforward, 13-yard completion to Hank Baskett from the shotgun.
"We got it out there, so people now have to game-plan for it," McNabb said. "We tried some different things out. Did it throw some things off? Maybe. But this is what the preseason is for, for us to clean things up and throw some different things out there that we may or may not run during the year. Again, it kind of goes back to getting back to the fundamentals and cleaning that up."
The Eagles' first-team defense was better than the offense, but not great - it delivered some blows, forced turnovers, while also showing many of the same problems that afflicted it in the losses to New England and Indianapolis. The pass rush often seemed to arrive just after Jaguars quarterback David Garrard had flipped the ball to a checkdown receiver who had space in front of him. The linebackers looked confused in pass coverage; a Moise Fokou illegal-contact penalty turned a Jacksonville third-and-19 into a first down.
Omar Gaither sat out again with his knee injury, starting middle linebacker Joe Mays had little impact, and Fokou looked like a well-intentioned seventh-round rookie who had played exclusively at the strongside spot until this week. If there's a middle linebacker on the waiver wire next week, you have to think the Eagles might be interested.
Vick didn't get booed, but McNabb did, right after he threw a pick into double coverage that was run back to the Eagles' 8, McNabb trying to force the ball to DeSean Jackson early in the third quarter. The Jags quickly scored, giving them a 27-13 lead.
The Eagles' reserves scored 13 points in the fourth quarter and David Akers kicked the winning field goal from 34 yards out, with 15 seconds to play. It was Akers' fourth field goal in four tries in the game.
The Eagles moved to 1-2, going into next week's finale at the Jets, in which Reid said no starters will play.
In the grand scheme of things, such problems as the Birds had last night, in a preseason game, are no cause for alarm. But this was the preseason game that followed what Reid called a "ridiculous" effort against Indianapolis. Supposedly, with a healthier group of starters, the Eagles were going to finally show what they were capable of doing.
The taking-care-of-business theme started to fade right after the warmups, when an Eagles spokesman circulated through the press box explaining that franchise running back Brian Westbrook would not be playing, after all. (This was just before the giant inflatable Eagle head through which the players run onto the field had to be carted off because it wouldn't inflate - a harbinger, for sure.)
Westbrook had warmed up before the game, apparently ready for his first preseason action, after June ankle surgery.
"I wanted Brian to practice and prepare for the game as if he were playing," said Reid, who said he decided yesterday that the reward wasn't worth the potential risk.
So getting a fix on the first-team offense without Westbrook might have been a doomed project from the get-go, even before Reid started his second-down rotation system.
Of course, the offense is still missing right tackle Shawn Andrews (back) and left guard Todd Herremans (foot). Reid announced after the game that Herremans would have surgery today and will miss at least the first few weeks of the season. Right guard Stacy Andrews, in his first action since ACL surgery last winter, called it a night before the rest of the starters did.
"The ones [first team] still have plenty of work to do," Reid said.
QB Kevin Kolb saw his first action of the preseason in the fourth quarter and led the comeback after a shaky beginning.
The defense caught some bad breaks; Asante Samuel's concussion-causing (and most probably fine-incurring) hit made Nate Hughes fumble the ball just outside the Birds' goal line, only for Torry Holt to pick it up and score. But once-stellar defensive end Trent Cole called it a night (early, like Andrews, Cole also seeing his first preseason action after recovering from a shoulder problem), there wasn't much push from the front four.
Overall, the most egregious moment came with 4:54 left in the first half. The Eagles had first-and-goal at the Jags' 1; they'd been moving smartly after a Samuel interception. The playcall, 1 yard from the end zone? A backward swing pass from McNabb to rookie LeSean McCoy, who whiffed on the catch when the ball came in high and hard, watched the ball bounce off his helmet, then watched it hit the ground. McCoy apparently thought the play was over. Linebacker Brian Iwuh, who knew better, scooped it up and took off for a touchdown, giving the Jags a 14-3 lead.
"We really didn't run our red-zone offense down there on the goal line," McNabb said.
Rookie safety Macho Harris will have an ankle MRI today, Andy Reid said . . . Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta was in attendance, which matches indications that the Ravens are interested in what shakes loose from the Eagles' wide receiving corps.
For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' Eagles blog, Eagletarian, at www.eagletarian.com.