Before Michael Vick reached the huddle, Jamaal Jackson made one of those statements that might have rung hollow if not for the importance of the situation and the fact that the center, as the leader of the offensive line, was making such a declaration:
Let's get him in.
The line had tried to get Vick his first touchdown post-incarceration. But this was different. Vick was playing in the dome he once called home against the team he once called his. And he was 5 yards away from scoring against Atlanta, 5 yards away from scoring for the first time in three years.
"We talked about it the whole week: 'Let's get him in coming back where he made his name,' " Jackson said Sunday after the Eagles trounced the Falcons, 34-7. "And then he's coming in and I said, 'Let's get him in.' And that was it."
Vick, of course, scored, but that was not it. With the game in hand, starter Donovan McNabb handed over the quarterbacking duties at the start of the fourth quarter. This time, Vick threw for a score, capping off a game that turned into a lovefest for a man who has been vilified since his dogfighting crimes became known.
But when the buzz died down, a host of questions remained: Does the success of a few plays mean coach Andy Reid will use Vick more? Does it mean Vick has all but guaranteed that he will be with another team next year? And in that regard, was the showcasing a way for the Eagles to dangle the quarterback in front of prospective buyers?
The answers, according to Reid, are maybe, no, and an emphatic no.
"I'm not going to say one way or another," Reid said yesterday when asked if Vick's play warranted a bigger role. "We'll see how everything formulates."
Does Reid need to show that Vick can do more to improve the trade offers the Eagles might get in the off-season?
"No, not even a thought," Reid said. "It was giving the kid an opportunity."
Vick got more opportunities against the Falcons than he had in months. If it weren't for a bruised hand, he might have played almost all of the fourth quarter. In the end, though, he played seven downs. Despite the two touchdowns, the performance was spotty.
Four of the plays came when he replaced McNabb. Two were passes and both were underthrown.
On the first, Vick sold a play fake and rolled to his left. Reggie Brown ran a "go" route and got a few yards beyond cornerback Brent Grimes. Vick spotted his receiver and with ample time uncorked a tight spiral - several yards short. Brown, despite being bumped, outleaped two defenders for a 43-yard catch.
Three plays later, on third and goal, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg called for a play he felt confident would get Vick his second touchdown.
"I knew that I wanted to get him one," Mornhinweg said. "When I got him one, I knew that I wanted to get him two."
Vick lined up under center, with a two-tight-end set on the left flank. Vick took the snap and rolled left, cupping the football as if he were running. Every Eagle ran left except for tight end Brent Celek, who feigned a block and sneaked right.
Safety Thomas DeCoud stayed home, but reacted too late. Vick lobbed a pass across his body and Celek had to wait for the ball, but it didn't matter. The tight end was wide open and had enough momentum to break DeCoud's attempt at a tackle.
Vick's first touchdown came after two first-quarter runs netted just 7 yards. However, when McNabb guided the Eagles down to the 5-yard line, Vick got the call on third and 1. The play was similar to the one he ran last week against Washington.
With fullback Leonard Weaver to his right, Vick received the snap. Weaver ran to his right to block the safety. Left guard Nick Cole pulled to the right to block the linebacker and help form a wall with Weaver. Celek and right tackle Winston Justice sealed the left side.
Vick, meanwhile, paused briefly before running through the lane. All he had to do then was get by DeCoud. Last week, he ran outside and was cut down. This time, he cut inside, maintained his balance after DeCoud went at his ankles, and lunged over the goal line.
The line did its job.
He got in.