TO EAGLES defensive end Trent Cole, there is no mystery as to why NBC grabbed his team's game this Sunday against the 5-9 Minnesota Vikings for its prime-time slot. The game originally was scheduled for 1 p.m.
"We got Michael Vick and DeSean Jackson. You got athletes and you got entertainment, baby," Cole said yesterday. "They get it done and they get it done in all kinds of different ways, crazy ways."
Vick was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week yesterday for the third time in the last 7 weeks, which is a lot. He led the Eagles to three offensive touchdowns in a little more than 6 minutes Sunday, then watched Jackson's 65-yard punt return stun the Giants on the final play, in a 38-31 victory that will be talked about for a long time.
"Man, I'm tired of playing late at night; I want to watch the 8 o'clock games," Vick joked yesterday. "It's pretty cool. Anytime you get a chance to play in prime time, it's a great opportunity, it's a blessing. Everybody doesn't get that chance to be seen on national television - hey, we'll take it."
The last time the Eagles played on Sunday night, Dec. 12 at Dallas, they set a "Sunday Night Football" record with a 15.2 rating and a 24 share. The Eagles are 5-0 in prime time this season.
"It's awesome, it makes me want to go out and continue to put on a show," Vick said. "I know everybody's watching, so I want to do the best that I can. Playing within the system, playing my game, but just letting my talent show."
Someone suggested this would be a provision to be explored in his much-discussed next contract - extra pay for extra ratings.
"That'd be awesome. I need it. Wouldn't hurt," said Vick, who finished second in fan voting for the Pro Bowl to New England quarterback Tom Brady in final results announced yesterday. Brady had 1,877,079 votes while Vick finished with 1,522,437.
When the selections are announced Tuesday, after coaches and players vote this week, Vick will be going to the Pro Bowl for the first time since the 2005 season, long before he went to jail for dogfighting. His skills and his comeback story, fans across the country find fascinating.
"A year ago, I couldn't envision being in the Pro Bowl or being a Pro Bowl selection," said Vick, who looked rusty and ill at ease in completing six of 13 passes in 2009. "Last year, I remember being here, guys were being [invited] to the Pro Bowl, I was like, 'Man, I remember the days . . . ' Here it is 2010. When a team gave me the opportunity, I made the most of it."
Of course, as Cole noted, Vick isn't the Eagles' only ratings attraction. The guy who blazed through the Giants for the first walk-off punt return in NFL history also excites a following.
"We look forward to those opportunities, playing on Sunday night or Monday night or Thursday night, when the whole world is watching," Jackson said yesterday. "We look forward to those games. We just try to do the best we can to show everybody in America how much excitement me and him have together. Not only just me and him, but the whole team. In the meantime, we're winning games, and everybody's having fun."
The extraordinary national interest has all sorts of unforeseen benefits.
"My family can see me play on regular TV, without having to get NFL Network," defensive end Darryl Tapp said. "Unlike when I was in Seattle."
Tapp, too, likes to watch Vick and Jackson.
"Definitely. How can you not watch?" he said. "On the sidelines, when we get done with our corrections, you've got to keep your eyes on the field. You never know what him and the rest of the playmakers on offense will do."
Wideout Jeremy Maclin said people approach him on the street frequently and tell him how exciting the Eagles are to watch. Friends and family text frequently from Missouri after prime-time games.
Rookie safety Kurt Coleman, a starter now with Nate Allen down for the season following surgery for a patellar tear, talked yesterday about how the Vick phenomenon has brought the team together.
"It's amazing," Coleman said. "He has definitely brought this team so much closer than what it already was. We believe in each other, we believe in him, we believe in this offense and we believe in everything that the coaches have done for us. I think it has really given us a lot of momentum and a lot of confidence."
Of course, the Vikings also could do their part to boost the ratings if quarterback Brett Favre were cleared to play. He hasn't been declared out, but Minnesota interim coach Leslie Frazier has said it is unlikely Favre will be able to go after suffering a concussion Monday night against the Bears. The Eagles are likely to see rookie Joe Webb.
Vick was asked about Favre and his legacy.
"First-ballot Hall of Famer, to sum it all up," Vick said. "First ballot, regardless of how it all ended. It's about what he's been to the game, what he's done for the game, things he's been able to accomplish . . . A lot of people want to be like him, they want to emulate what he's done. It's a long way, to be able to play 20 years and accomplish all the things that he's accomplished - win the Super Bowl, two-time MVP. It's awesome."
For the Eagles, playing under the lights might help boost the energy level in what looks like a mismatch going in, the Birds favored by 14 1/2 points, by far the largest spread of the season, the first game the Birds have been favored to win by double digits since they were favored by 15 on Oct. 11, 2009, vs. Tampa Bay.
"Will it be difficult? No, it won't," Vick said. "I think [the miraculous Giants win is] a game we learn from, we build from and put behind us and move forward . . . You can't coast along in any week during the season. We know the magnitude of this game and what's at stake, and we have to go out and get it. Nothing is going to be given to you."
Although, given that most everybody else plays earlier, the Eagles could have clinched a playoff berth by the time they take the field against the Vikings, and if the Giants lose to the Packers, the Birds could already be the NFC East champs.
"Given what we've been through and how far we've come, it's going to be exciting anyway," Vick said. *
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