Friday September 4th, 2009

Musings, observations and the occasional insight from an eventful and jam-packed Thursday night of preseason football ...

• Make what you will of the always-watered-down product that is Week 4 in the NFL preseason, but I think it's safe to say, at least for now, that Michael Vick and the Eagles won't be reinventing offensive football as we know it anytime soon.

Maybe Philly's two-headed quarterback situation will wind up dazzling us before the 2009 season is finished, but all we saw out of Vick Thursday night against the Jets at the Meadowlands was a player who has miles and miles to go before being anyone's idea of a secret weapon.

It was ugly. U-G-L-Y. Vick's night in the Jets 38-27 win started shakily and got worse. Add it all up, there were painfully few positives. Two fumbles. An interception in the end zone. Four sacks for a combined 40 yards lost. Seven of 11 passing for a meager 26 yards, with a passer rating of just 29.7. And lastly, seven rushes for 35 yards, with a 2-yard second-quarter scoring dive being his almost singular highlight.

We saw Vick stumble on one first-quarter run, tripping himself without being touched for a one-yard loss on an option play. There was a false start, a key delay of game on third-and-goal, a poorly underthrown interception to Jets cornerback Dwight Lowery in the end zone, and a wild, out-of-control scramble that resulted in a 22-yard loss, a sack and a fumble.

In Vick's five second-half drives, Philly punted three times, lost the ball on one of his fumbles, and converted a 36-yard David Akers field goal. Vick's one-play touchdown drive aside, his night was a study in rust removal. And there's a long way to go in that process.

To no surprise, Eagles starter Donovan McNabb didn't even take the field against the Jets, so there was less concern this week about breaking the rhythm of the Philadelphia offense by dropping Vick in and out of the game. In all honesty, there wasn't any discernible rhythm to the Eagles offense, especially when Vick was in the game under center.

When Eagles head coach Andy Reid mercifully pulled Vick for good with less than five minutes to play in the fourth quarter, inserting A.J. Feeley, you were almost thankful that No. 7's night was done and he couldn't take another pounding from a Jets defense that clearly smelled blood and was circling for the kill.

Let there now be no debate: Vick's game is not there yet, and Thursday night proved it in vivid colors. Clearly NFL commissioner Roger Goodell did him and the Eagles a favor on Thursday by ruling that Vick must sit out the first two weeks of the NFL regular season until he's fully reinstated, because he needs time and a lot more practice reps to resemble anything close to the running/throwing threat Philadelphia envisioned when the club signed him three weeks ago.

After two long years away from the NFL, Vick is a work in progress, and at times, that work is going to be messy and not very attractive. He may very well have come a long way off the field already, but if we thought he might somehow magically return to his form of 2002-2006 after just weeks back on the field, we now know better. This experiment the Eagles have started is going to take some time. Vick is back, but nowhere near all the way back.

• There was a secret weapon at Giants Stadium, but it wasn't Vick. It was Danny Woodhead.

He's not bumping Leon Washington, Thomas Jones or rookie Shonn Greene off the roster in New York, but how can the Jets not keep Woodhead, the 5-foot-9, 195-pound dynamo and former Division II star running back who wound up stealing the show against the Eagles? He's Wayne Chrebet ... at running back.

Woodhead, who played collegiately at tiny and virtually unknown Chadron State in Chadron, Neb., ran wild against the Eagles, with 18 carries for 158 yards, and a 10-yard reception. He scored on a 55-yard scamper in the second quarter, set up a second touchdown with his 44-yard run in the third quarter and punched in a 3-yard rushing touchdown to cap his night. All night long, the Eagles couldn't corral the little speedster.

Woodhead Fever. Catch it. I know I did.

• There's some serious hand-ringing underway among Patriots fans regarding the state of New England's shaky secondary, and the Giants' first seven pass attempts of Thursday's game is only going to intensify those concerns 50-fold.

New York's opening onslaught shredded the Patriots for 206 yards and three touchdowns, all in the first quarter. The completions went for 44 yards to tight end Kevin Boss, nine yards to Boss, 23 yards to Sinorice Moss for a touchdown (all from Eli Manning), 38 yards to Domenik Hixon, 12 yards to Moss for another touchdown, 16 yards to Mario Manningham, and a 64-yard dagger to the heart for another touchdown, this one by rookie Hakeem Nicks.

Backup David Carr threw the last four of those passes, for 130 yards and two scores, after Manning had finished his one series of work 3 for 3 for 76 yards. Overall, Manning and Carr completed all nine of their attempts in the game, for 229 yards and three scores. Both finished with perfect 158.3 passer ratings for the game. Has an NFL team ever had two quarterbacks finish with perfect passer ratings in the same game, when they each threw more than a pass?

I get the feeling New England's secondary might just get some extra attention from Bill Belichick in the coming week, and that's never a good thing in Foxboro.

• Watching Mark Sanchez on his picture-perfect opening drive against the Eagles -- 5 of 5 for 67 yards passing, with a 21-yard scoring strike to Jerricho Cotchery -- I couldn't even remember why anyone ever thought Kellen Clemens had a legitimate shot to win the Jets' starting quarterback job. Could you?

• Wow. An honest-to-goodness Vernon Gholston sighting. The former Ohio State star stormed the Eagles backfield and dropped Kevin Kolb for a seven-yard sack in the first half, and it makes you wonder if new Jets head coach Rex Ryan really can make a player out of the No. 6 overall pick in 2008 -- just like he said he would.

• With Sinorice Moss himself questioning whether he was about to become one of the odd men out in the Giants' logjam of receivers, those were two incredibly well-timed touchdown catches by the ex-Miami Hurricane. Moss hauled in a 23-yarder from Manning on New York's first drive, and doubled his fun with a 12-yard scoring pass from Carr on the Giants' second possession.

• I know one guy who wasn't thrilled to hear the news Goodell has decided to fully re-instate Vick in time for Week 3 of the regular season. That would be Chiefs defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, whose Kansas City defense will be the first one faced with having to prepare for the Eagles' two-headed quarterback. The Chiefs at Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on Sept. 27 suddenly got a whole lot more interesting than it first appeared.

Come to think of it, will that also be the day we'll hear our first "We want Vick" chant' breaking out in the stands at the Linc after a McNabb interception (or maybe even an incompletion)?

• Maybe he wasn't going anywhere no matter what, but Packers third-team quarterback Brian Brohm might just have saved his still-nascent NFL career with a pretty good showing against the Titans. Brohm finished a decent 20 of 28 for 154 yards, without an interception or touchdown pass. It's likely enough to keep him safely behind Packers backup Matt Flynn, and maybe even ward off any potential interest Green Bay might have in Vikings reserve quarterback Tarvaris Jackson.

• One touchdown with his legs, and another touchdown, of the pretty variety, with his arm. That's more like the Vince Young we remember. Yet another quarterback who locked down his spot on the depth chart with a strong finish in his team's preseason finale.

• We went in expecting Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson's final shot to settle their quarterback competition in Cleveland and wound up getting Brett Ratliff versus Richard Bartel in the Bears' 26-23 home win against the Browns.

So now I'm really confused, but I suppose it means Browns head coach Eric Mangini didn't want to risk getting either of his co-starters hurt in the meaningless fourth week of the preseason. I still believe the job will be Quinn's on opening day at home against Minnesota.

But Bartel did look pretty good against the Bears, finishing 12 of 14 for 137 yards and no picks.

• If his lacerated foot heals in time, it looks like Daunte Culpepper will be the opening-day starter in Detroit, as I've suspected all along. No. 1 overall pick Matthew Stafford didn't exactly forward his candidacy to start right away with his showing at Buffalo.

Stafford was 5 of 9 in the first half for 81 yards in the Lions' 17-6 win, but he was picked off once, fumbled once and sacked twice. Bills rookie defensive end Aaron Maybin sacked him the second time, stripping the ball away in the process for a Buffalo recovery. Later in his limited action, Stafford threw a pick to second-year Bills nickelback Reggie Corner.

The lack of ball security, combined with Detroit's hesitancy to put Stafford behind an offensive line that's still a question mark, spells Culpepper to me if he's healthy.

• Maybe it's only because I've been watching HBO's Hard Knocks series with the Bengals this preseason, but it looks like that running back battle between Brian Leonard and DeeDee Dorsey is going right down to the wire. Dorsey piled up a team-best 68 yards on 13 carries in Cincy's surprising 38-7 blowout of the Colts and even recovered a blocked punt for a 7-yard fourth-quarter touchdown return.

But Leonard, the ex-Rutgers star, didn't hurt his chances either. He ran nine times for 64 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown rush. • What? The Packers first-team offense actually had to punt for the first time all preseason? And Aaron Rodgers even fired an incompletion among his three passing attempts at Tennessee? Well, that ought to cool down Green Bay's Super Bowl express.

• Remind me to never take career advice from Jeff Jagodzinski. What a clinic the guy has been putting on: How to kill a career in three easy steps. Not all that long ago, Jagodzinski had a pretty good gig as the head coach at Boston College, heading up a winning program in a major conference. But he couldn't resist the chance to interview for the Jets' head-coaching job in January -- even if he was nothing more than a long-shot candidate -- and lost the B.C. job because of it.

Now he gets canned as Tampa Bay's offensive coordinator just before the season starts, reportedly because he didn't really know his stuff when it came to installing an offense and calling plays. Which, by my way of thinking, are two pretty important skills for an NFL offensive coordinator. League sources who have known Jagodzinski in his prior NFL incarnations have told me he's not the easiest guy to work with, but you have to wonder how much self-inflicted damage his reputation has suffered with this latest twist? I'd be surprised if there a decent head coaching or coordinator opportunity coming his way in the foreseeable future.

• Speaking of recently fired offensive coordinators, it would seem with or without Chan Gailey, the Chiefs still have some work to do on that side of the ball. In its 17-9 loss at St. Louis on Thursday, Kansas City rolled up 406 yards of offense but only converted that production into three field goals.

• New Jets cornerback Lito Sheppard got picked on last week by the Giants, and then he went out Thursday and drew an early 43-yard pass interference penalty against the one team you know he didn't want to look bad against: the Eagles, his old team. I thought New York getting Sheppard was a good move this offseason, but I'm starting to reconsider that.

• Despite what has been said publicly by Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels, Denver is at least open to listening to any and all potential trade offers for receiver Brandon Marshall. And there's definitely interest on the Jets' part, who aren't scared off by Marshall's contract demands, health problems or obvious maturity issues.

A Jets source told me that when they look at Marshall, they don't see a younger version of Terrell Owens, a player doomed to be a chronic problem. They see someone who is by no means innocent when it comes to all the issues surrounding him, but also a young player who got caught up in the funk that has descended on the Broncos all offseason. New York believes if he gets a fresh start in a new situation, his new team will get his best effort. And the Jets would like to be that new team.

But having parted ways with Jay Cutler for less than a king's ransom, the Broncos aren't about to give Marshall away for just 2010 draft picks, which do nothing to help Denver's cause this year. And rest assured, the Jets aren't trading promising young linebacker David Harris, whom the Broncos reportedly covet. That's why nothing is likely to come of any Marshall trade talks at this point, and the Broncos are hopeful that he returns from his suspension on Sept. 6 with an improved attitude and willingness to keep his mouth closed. If he doesn't, stay tuned. Trade rumors could again swirl.

• So the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the CFL decided Pacman Jones was too much of a lightning rod for them, and in response, we get this nugget of a quote from Jones' co-agent, Jason Fletcher: "It's going to take someone that's strong and secure in their position to give Adam the legitimate opportunity that he deserves -- very similar to the second opportunity Michael Vick received with the Eagles.''

Uh, couple problems with that. Jones already got his second chance -- last season in Dallas. He did little with it, and in the process devalued himself as a football commodity. There's no one more strong and secure in their position than Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, and if Pacman was still a weapon as a return man and a cornerback, he'd still be in Dallas today. Count on it. The Cowboys didn't cut him because he made trouble. They cut him because he wasn't the player he was in Tennessee. That's the bottom line.

If Jones gets another shot in the NFL, CFL, or UFL, it'll be his third chance, and thus isn't comparable to Vick's signing with the Eagles. And who says Jones "deserves'' a "legitimate opportunity'' at this point? I mean, besides his co-agent?

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