Phil Sheridan: Vick, Jackson return with a bang
In his first game back from that terrifying concussion shot, DeSean Jackson said that worry did creep into his mind - but only when quarterback Michael Vick was running.
"Scary," Jackson said. "I don't want him to get hurt. I always tell him, protect yourself, don't take no hits."
Vick and Jackson were both sidelined after the kind of hits that leave the body hurting and the mind reeling. Vick was sandwiched between two Washington defenders, contorting his upper body so severely the cartilage connecting his ribs was torn. Jackson, of course, became part of the national conversation about predatory hits when he was knocked unconscious during a game against Atlanta three weeks ago.
On Sunday, Vick was back and Jackson was back. Not coincidentally, the Eagles were able to beat the Indianapolis Colts for the first time in four tries under Andy Reid.
It was Vick-to-Jackson early, Vick running for big first downs late, and Jackson taking the game literally into his hands to seal the deal at the end.
They are singular talents, the once- (and some feel permanently) disgraced quarterback and the undersize but game-changing young wide receiver. That undeniable truth contributed to the Eagles' first touchdown, when Vick found an inexplicably open Jackson in the back of the end zone less than two minutes into the game.
"Any time you have the Colts," Jackson said, "you have to jump out on them. That was huge to go out that first drive and [get] a touchdown."
But the real measure of their unique abilities came later. First, the Eagles found themselves pinned down at their own 1-yard line after a Colts punt. The priority there is to get far enough from the end zone to keep Peyton Manning from having a short field. Third and 7 from the 4-yard line is about minimizing damage, not inflicting it.
But Vick dropped back into the middle of the end zone, reared back and fired a ball down the middle of the field. Jackson and two Colts defenders ran under it. It seemed inevitable that Jackson would come down with it. He is just that commanding a presence on a football field.
The 58-yard play turned the field around, set up an Eagles field goal, and prevented Manning from seizing the momentum.
"We were backed up on our own goal line and he threw that ball out to me, right on stride," Jackson said. "That was an unbelievable ball. I'm fortunate to be able to play with that guy, man."
The admiration is mutual.
"DeSean is just another breed," Vick said. "He's a freak of nature."
Vick took some big hits early. Clearly the Colts wanted to force the issue with his ribs, see if they could rattle him or knock him out. And the book on Jackson now is to be physical with him. It is about all you can hope to do, since few players in the league can run with him.
So it said something about them as football players that Vick ran fearlessly for some big gains and Jackson was out there returning punts, running end-arounds and thoroughly dominating at key moments.
They weren't completely oblivious. Vick ran out of bounds at least once to avoid an unnecessary hit. And Jackson did the same, occasionally ducking under a tackle or getting to the sideline when there wasn't much to be gained by challenging a defender. The coaches didn't call over-the-middle routes like the one on which Jackson was injured.
"If you're not playing smart," Jackson said, "you'll get your head taken off. [Vick] didn't slide. Actually, he got hit a couple of times. I think he's smart. I don't think he wants to feel that pain he felt when he got hurt vs. Washington."
And, of course, no player can help his team win when he's on the inactive list.
The touchdown pass is good for the stats. The long pass is good for the highlight reels. But the most important work Vick and Jackson did came in the fourth quarter, when the outcome was very much in doubt.
On a possession that ate up nearly seven crucial minutes, Vick found Jackson twice to convert third downs. On third and 10, Vick bolted for a first down.
Later, clinging to a two-point lead, the Eagles got the ball at their own 20 with 1 minute, 49 seconds to play. Manning was on the sideline, waiting for the chance to engineer a game-winning drive.
First down, Jackson ran an end-around for 11 yards. Next play, Jackson ran again.
"I told Coach Marty [Mornhinweg] and Coach Reid, 'Let's call that reverse.' After we ran it the first time, I said 'Let's run it again.' I was feeling so confident at that point."
There aren't many players who can single-handedly control this team-oriented game. There are fewer who can convince their coaches to trust them to do it. And there are fewer still who can deliver.
Jackson just may be fearless. At the moment, he's also close to peerless.
Contact columnist Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or email@example.com.
Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.