ANDY REID wants to say it. He so badly wants to say the right thing.
He wants to end the seasons of Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy, but he cannot bring himself to do it.
Reid is a decent man. He has children near the ages of Vick, the Birds' battered quarterback, and McCoy, the franchise's best hope for the future. He salvaged Vick's career and his life. He created McCoy, and he loves him.
Both remain debilitated by concussions; Vick's, apparently cumulative; McCoy's, the result of a violent, needless hit. Neither needs to return this season.
But, even after eight straight losses and nine in 12 games, Reid cannot declare them finished.
He is coming closer.
Wednesday, Reid reiterated his declaration from Monday. Reid announced that rookie Nick Foles will remain the starting quarterback if Vick is ever cleared to return to action.
With nine losses and with the Eagles only a playoff option in the maddest of mathematical fantasies, Reid couched the decision as a chance to give Foles extended playing time to advance his development and to better evaluate him. But Reid also said, "I just want [Vick] to get that right so he can have a nice, long career here. He still has 3, 4 years that he can really get out there and wing it. Let's get him healthy and going in the right direction there."
Reid said Wednesday that, if McCoy receives clearance, there "is a chance" that he would see playing time down the road.
Nothing clouds the NFL's future like its cavalier handling of concussions in the past 2 decades. Head trauma ruined lives of retired stars like Jim McMahon and Junior Seau. Concussions have been linked, however tenuously, to the violent deaths of young players like Bengals receiver Chris Henry and, last week, Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher.
Yes, Reid owes it to his team and his owner and the fan base to try to win the last four games. The Seahawks went to the playoffs with nine losses, so it can be done.
But would Vick or McCoy even be viable options, even in a month? Neither has been able to work out, much less practice, since their injuries.
Neither is close to returning to work. Reid indicated Monday that Vick could be back this week, but that hope was dashed when Vick failed his latest test.
McCoy is even farther away from returning.
In McCoy's place, Bryce Brown has been a revelation. His 347 rushing yards and four touchdowns in his first two starts is an Eagles record.
In Vick's place, Foles, who struggled in his first two starts, seemed to find his way in his third - a prime-time game, on the road, against a Cowboys team very much in a playoff race.
The Eagles face similar teams the rest of the way: at the Bucs, hosting the Bengals and Redskins, then visiting the Giants.
Projecting a 4-0 run against that type of competition is absurd. A team 0-6 since its bye, with a reconstructed offensive line, a running back who fumbles late, a historically awful defense that has had its second coach fired within 2 months? A 2-2 result would be acceptable.
There is little science to support the contention that Vick and McCoy would be best served to sit out the rest of the season.
In fact, concussions no longer are graded, per se; there is no "mild" or "severe" concussion.
"All of them, essentially, are severe," said Dr. Todd Lewis, who co-runs the Philadelphia Concussion Center at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital. "What matters is how long it takes for a patient to return to baseline."
Further, said Lewis, there is no indication that a long recovery period indicates a greater likelihood of a subsequent concussion. In other words, if a player is cleared a week or a month after he suffers a concussion, he stands the same risk of suffering another.
"Maybe, down the road, we'll see some more research that addresses that," Lewis said.
The science of concussions and head trauma is evolving at about the same pace as the science of smartphones. Next year, the International Conference on Concussion in Sport will issue its fourth set of guidelines since 2001. Typically, these consensus statements debunk myths.
Such as, an athlete knocked unconscious suffers a concussion worse than an athlete who does not lose consciousness.
Or, an athlete can suffer a concussion as a result of continual impacts. Before he was sidelined, Vick had been hit more than any other quarterback in the NFL, by far. Lewis is convinced that those hits did not combine to give Vick a concussion. However, said Lewis, Vick might have suffered his current concussion days or even weeks before Ernie Sims of the Cowboys plowed into him and knocked him to the turf at Lincoln Financial Field.
"You can see a delayed effect, where symptoms do not appear at that moment," Lewis said. "Then, the original concussion can be exacerbated."
If anything, Lewis said, NFL teams have seen the light, especially with marquee players such as Vick and McCoy.
"Professional industries are seeing to it that they protect their commodities," Lewis said.
Lewis said there is plenty of research supporting the belief that, once a player suffers one concussion, he is more likely to suffer other concussions in the future.
Vick suffered a concussion in Week Two last season. He did not miss a start due to that injury. It took him three games to regain top form.
Vick now has missed three starts. A fourth missed start seems inevitable.
McCoy has missed two starts. A third is virtually guaranteed.
No purpose is served by playing them.
It's not as if McCoy is chasing a record.
It's not as if Vick, who might get cut, can show any future team marked improvement in his skills at the end of this season.
Lewis often conducts seminars for youth coaches, an arena in which ignorance of concussion complications can be deadly.
Said Lewis: "Our mantra is, 'When in doubt, take them out.' "
Reid should tweak it: "When in doubt, keep them out."