The problem with leaping to conclusions after the first game of the NFL season is that it's easy to misjudge the ground. Deciding after the opener that this player is the problem and that player is the answer is wrong as often as it is right, and when the ground comes up unexpectedly in a week or two, the early conclusions are left with broken ankles.
Still, it has to be said that Kevin Kolb, before suffering a concussion on Sunday, was just awful in his regular-season debut as the Eagles' starting quarterback. He was wooden and obvious with his reads and could easily have thrown three interceptions among his 10 pass attempts. You can repeat all the standard disclaimers about first-year starters, and those are valid, and about the fact that getting to run only four series of plays is not a fair test. All true. But still . . .
We now come upon a situation that was either part of Andy Reid's master plan or part of his worst nightmare upon trading away Donovan McNabb. Reid had steadfastly said that Michael Vick remained on the roster because he is a quarterback capable of leading the team in an emergency. He never said Vick was on the roster in case the emergency is that Kolb isn't any good. Any possibility that the franchise whiffed on the evaluation of its quarterback of the future was never broached.
That scenario is in play, though, even though Kolb will and should get a number of additional chances before the Eagles decide Vick is the better option for this season. The only question is the number. Is it three more games of not playing well? Five more? How many?
This is speculative, because when Kolb comes back he could throw for 300 yards again, as he did in each of his starts last season. He could have one of those steady, efficient games that quiets the murmurs and allows the organization to exhale.
Reid already said that Kolb will start Sunday in Detroit if he is cleared by the NFL's stringent rules for returning from concussion. (Of course, those rules also are supposed to prevent a player from re-entering a game after suffering a concussion, and that didn't work out so well.)
At least for the moment, and for as many moments as he can delay it, Reid is not having any quarterback controversy on his team, even though his construction of this season's roster virtually assured one sooner or later.
"Listen, I think Michael did a phenomenal job today," Reid said after Vick very nearly rallied the team from a 17-point deficit to catch the Green Bay Packers. "He brought the team back. He kept his poise. He had some big runs, made some big throws. I'm happy as heck for Michael, but I'm not looking at the future. I'm looking at getting this fixed so we can win some football games."
Reid said there were a lot of variables in play that made the first half such an offensive disaster (three points, 49 net yards; 20 of which came on Vick runs) and the second half a much different story (17 points, 172 net yards).
"It wasn't just the quarterback. I'm taking responsibility," Reid said. "We tried to make a few adjustments [at halftime]."
Well, those were some adjustments. As soon as Vick took over, the Eagles started to drive. The first drive ended when Eldra Buckley fumbled after the team had picked up 39 yards on its first three plays from scrimmage. After that, the Eagles scored on three of their next four possessions, with Vick setting up one touchdown with a vintage 31-yard scramble and another with a perfect 27-yard pass into the deep crease to Brent Celek.
For the day, including his in-and-out appearances before Kolb was hurt, Vick was 16 for 24 for 175 yards, had a passer rating of 101.9, and ran for another 103 yards. Even if you don't like Vick's frenetic style of play, even if you don't think he is the long-term answer at quarterback, even if you love furry puppies, man, he was impressive. With him in the game, the Eagles moved the ball, even though the team's best blocking back was out of the game and even though the offensive line was ridiculously patched together.
"I still feel like I can play at a high level," Vick said. "I feel like if I'd been out there for four quarters, maybe we'd have had a chance to win the game. It's all hindsight, but I feel like I'm 25 or 26, even though I know that's not the case. I feel good and I was able to take some hits. I'm excited and I'm real happy, but I'm upset that we lost."
He has a reason to be happy. Just based on his performance yesterday, Vick assured the fact that he is going to be an NFL starter again. It might not be here. It might not be this year. But anyone who looks at the film of that game will see a quarterback who can give a team a chance to win. And, yes, if he had been out there four quarters on Sunday, the Eagles would have had a better chance.
So that's where the organization has left itself. The quarterback who gives the team the best chance to win right now might not be the starter. There is justification for putting yourself in that position, if the future payoff is obvious, but you better be right.
The Eagles could be right about Kevin Kolb, but it definitely wasn't obvious on Sunday. Even though it is too soon to break the ankles of a conclusion, it isn't too soon to wonder what happens next and acknowledge that this one could get a little messy.