EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - It has taken Michael Vick a little while to chip away much of the rust from his nearly 2 years behind bars. Longer than he thought, and probably longer than Andy Reid thought.
But the Eagles coach's controversial August decision to sign Vick is starting to pay off.
A week after running for one touchdown and throwing for another in his team's 34-7 win over the Falcons, Vick helped the Eagles secure sole possession of first place in the NFC East with last night's 45-38 win over the Giants.
Vick's numbers by themselves - three rushes for 11 yards, one completion in two attempts for 32 yards - aren't all that impressive. But just about every time he touched the ball last night he did something positive.
He set up the Eagles' first touchdown of the game with a 32-yard completion to wide receiver DeSean Jackson.
He kept alive a second-quarter scoring drive with a 5-yard run on a third-and-2 play.
He scored on a 1-yard run late in the second quarter that gave the Eagles a 30-17 lead at the time.
And he had another 5-yard run on first-and-goal at the Giants' 6-yard line with 6 minutes left in the fourth quarter, setting up a 1-yard touchdown run by Leonard Weaver that put the Eagles up, 45-31.
Through the first nine games of the season, the Michael Vick Experiment seemed to be a failure. He had just 12 carries for 27 yards and completed just two of seven pass attempts for 6 yards.
But in the last four games, as Vick's legs have come back and he's gotten adjusted to the speed of the game again, he's averaged 6.6 yards per carry (66 yards on 10 rushing attempts) and rushed for two touchdowns. And he's completed four of six passes for 80 yards and a score.
"I think everybody just wanted me to come back and be myself," Vick said after the game. "Everybody in this organization knows what I had to go through to get myself back into playing shape. We all knew it was going to take some time.
"It was a great decision by Andy and [offensive coordinator] Marty [Mornhinweg] not to rush me into the flow of things. They couldn't have done a better job of just allowing me to go out and play at the appropriate times and in the right situations."
Vick's 32-yard completion to Jackson on their first possession gave the Eagles a first-and-goal at the New York 7. Two plays later, Donovan McNabb gave the Eagles a 7-0 lead with an 8-yard touchdown pass to tight end Brent Celek.
Vick scored his second rushing touchdown in as many games late in the second quarter, following excellent blocks by fullback Leonard Weaver and left guard Todd Herremans around the left side for a 1-yard score. It's a play Vick's legs probably wouldn't have let him make 2 months ago.
"I've always believed in our coaches, and I've always believed in myself and our system," Vick said. "Things didn't happen early on. We were still trying to get a feel for what was going to work best. It took some time.
"But hey, it couldn't happen at a better time. December is when you want to play your best football. And that's what's happening. This is bigger than last week because I was able to go out and make plays when we needed them and help put the offense in position to score touchdowns."
Reid never has put a number on how much he was going to use Vick. He said as his offense found its rhythm and Vick found his legs, there would be a place for him.
"We've had the plays in [for him]," Reid said. "It's situations that come up. The last couple of weeks have been his calls. They're not new plays. We've had them in. The bottom line is he's doing well. And I think he'll keep doing well down the stretch."
Reid wasted little time going to Vick last night. He put him in on the fifth play of the Eagles' first possession following a 6-yard run by Weaver. Vick hit a wide-open Jackson with a 32-yard completion to the Giants' 7-yard line. Two plays later, Donovan McNabb completed an 8-yard touchdown pass to tight end Brent Celek to give the Eagles a 7-0 lead.
Jackson notched his fourth 100-yard receiving performance of the season, picking up 178 yards and a touchdown on six catches, including the one from Vick.
"He's got unbelievable speed," Vick said of Jackson. "There's nothing he can't do on the football field. He's going to be a great one. I've never seen anybody like him."
**To referee John Parry and his crew for the clear screwup at the end of the first half. On the kickoff following Michael Vick's touchdown run with 10 seconds left in the second quarter, Moise Fokou recovered a Domenik Hixon fumble and was ruled down with 2 seconds left on the clock. Yet, the clock continued to run and neither Parry nor the replay official upstairs reviewed the play.
Did you notice?
** The Giants made two lineup changes last night. Hakeem Nicks replaced Mario Manningham at wide receiver and Aaron Ross replaced C.C. Brown at strong safety.
** Jeremiah Trotter started at middle linebacker, but eventually rotated inside with Akeem Jordan. Will Witherspoon, who moved to the weak side after Jordan got hurt last month, stayed at WILL. Jordan and Tracy White were the two linebackers in the Eagles' nickel package.
** On a third-and-9 play on the Giants' second possession, Eli Manning completed an 8-yard slant pass to Steve Smith in which both of the Eagles' nickel 'backers - Jordan and White - came on "A" gap blitzes.
** The stop by Trotter and strong safety Quintin Mikell on Brandon Jacobs at the end of the first quarter. They tackled him for a 3-yard loss on second-and-3.
** Reggie Brown was wide open on the second-and-goal play at the Giants' 2 in the second quarter, but Vick's throw was late and behind him. Aaron Rouse got a hand on the pass.
** Asante Samuel guessed wrong on a 23-yard Eli Manning pass to Kevin Boss early in the third quarter. He thought Manning was going to throw underneath to Steve Smith and jumped the route, leaving Boss wide open.
** Eagles were in a two-tight end formation on McNabb's 60-yard third-quarter touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson. He had excellent protection on the play, which he needed. Because Jackson's route took time to develop.
** The missed tackle by Witherspoon on Domenik Hixon's 61-yard touchdown catch and run in the third quarter that gave the Giants a short-lived 31-30 lead.
** For the eighth time in 13 games, the Eagles scored on their first possession. They've scored 44 points this year on their first possession.
** Sheldon Brown's 60-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the first quarter was the fifth of his career, tying him with Eric Allen and Seth Joyner for most fumbles returns for TDs by an Eagle.
** DeSean Jackson's 72-yard punt return for a TD was the third of his career, the most ever by an Eagle.
** Jackson notched his fourth 100-yard receiving game of the season with his 178-yard performance. As a team, the Eagles now have eight 100-yard receiving performances.
** The Eagles have outscored their opponents in the first half this season, 233-132. They've been outscored in the second half, 139-141.
** Jackson's 60-yard touchdown catch from McNabb in the third quarter was the Eagles' fourth one-play touchdown drive of the season. They've also had five two-play TD drives.