He could have stayed at home, and no one would have batted an eyelash. Michael Vick was aching and embarrassed following a 28--13 loss to the Saints on Nov. 5, a blowout in which he was sacked seven times while younger sibling Marcus went on a Twitter rampage that included a plea to "Please trade my brother. We requesting out of Philly!!!!" The Eagles' quarterback had promised to visit the Jersey Shore and tour the damage caused by Superstorm Sandy on the morning after the game in New Orleans, but for him to have bailed given the team's four-game losing streak—well, who could blame him?
So when Atlantic City mayor Lorenzo Langford received a call that morning from Vick's publicist, he assumed the embattled quarterback was postponing or canceling. "He got back to Philadelphia at five in the morning," Langford says, "but the call was to let me know he was still coming."
Sure enough, Vick packed up his wife, Kijafa, and their two young daughters, Jada and London. And there he was that afternoon, meeting with local youth and high school football players in Atlantic City, volunteering at a shelter for those who'd lost their homes to flooding and donating $50,000 to the relief effort. Granted, this kind of trip is standard p.r. fare for an NFL player; but for Vick, who is still working to rebuild his image more than three years after his release from federal prison, it's another small example of change.
His presence was welcome. "People needed to be consoled," says Langford, "and I wanted Mike to spend time with them. To see the exuberance in the eyes of the kids—they never thought they'd get to touch a real star." As for the issue that landed him in jail in the first place, "I was around him the whole time, and no one asked him about the dogfighting. You would have never known that other side—it never came up."
Which is hardly to suggest that all Vick's problems have disappeared. Says Langford, "Most of the questions he got were, 'How come the offensive line can't do a better job protecting you?'"
Better job? Try any job at all. Even before he suffered a concussion in the second quarter of Sunday's 38--23 loss to the Cowboys—an injury that he suffered when his head hit the grass under pressure from Dallas linebacker Ernie Sims—no quarterback had felt more heat this season than Vick, who had been pressured on 43.2% of his 368 dropbacks. Entering Week 10, he had been sacked 27 times, tied for third most in the NFL; and according to Pro Football Focus he was tied for the lead in throwaways (16) and in being hit as he throws (seven). Even as he's trying to become more of a pocket passer, Vick had still scrambled 35 times, not including designed runs, which is more than any other quarterback.
Simultaneously—or because of all this—he was on pace to reach career highs in interceptions (nine so far) and fumbles (10). And this in a town where sports talk radio devours quarterbacks like thinly sliced cheesesteaks. "Everybody's like, 'He's a horrible quarterback,'" says Lions defensive tackle Corey Williams, whose Lions beat up on Vick in Week 6. "But he can't sit in the pocket. He's running for his life."
Such is the harsh reality of working behind an offensive line that on Sunday had just one player in the same position at which he started the season, left guard Evan Mathis.
"It's a little weird," says Mathis of the dizzying spate of injuries, which he compares to the horror movie franchise Final Destination, wherein fate-tempting teens get offed in increasingly implausible ways. "Hopefully," he says, "I don't get hit by a bus."
Alas, these Eagles can hardly blame cosmic forces. Defensively, start with the Oct. 16 firing of coordinator Juan Castillo following that loss to the Lions. Two weeks later, with secondary coach Todd Bowles serving as the interim, the Eagles surrendered 30 points to the Falcons, marking coach Andy Reid's first loss coming off of a bye week since he took the gig 14 seasons ago.