THE LAST TIME the Eagles played the Giants, Michael Vick stood triumphant at the postgame podium, having reminded fans and reporters how good he could be when he doesn't turn the ball over, and having watched an Eagles defense ranked seventh in the league choke the defending Super Bowl champs into submission. The Eagles were 3-1, and their biggest problem was that they weren't winning convincingly.
How in the world did we get from Sept. 30 to today, to 10 losses in the ensuing 11 games, to the in-season departures of defensive coordinator Juan Castillo and defensive line coach Jim Washburn, to Vick and Eagles coach Andy Reid being asked over and over about the fast-approaching end of their time here?
"I can't tell you," Vick said Wednesday, after taking back the reins from Nick Foles for one last week as the Birds' starting quarterback. "It's just so many moving parts, guys in and out, we've had coaching changes and things of that nature. I really can't say what happened, what went wrong. I'd have to go back and look at all the film. We all have to evaluate and assess our situation, as far as what happened at the conclusion of the season, but it is what it is. [This is] not the first organization this has happened to, and it certainly won't be the last."
Asked what he recalled from that 19-17 victory, the Eagles' eighth win over Tom Coughlin's Giants in the last nine meetings (including one playoff win), Reid said: "We finished the game. We finished it with a win, and we've had a couple since then that we haven't quite finished in the fourth quarter, or the other team has started fast and we've been playing a catchup game."
Left guard Evan Mathis noted that the Eagles won the turnover battle that day, forcing an Eli Manning interception and not giving the ball to the Giants at all. The Eagles have played 15 games, and that is the only one they finished with a positive turnover margin. They are a stunning minus-23 for the season, which reflects an offense that turns it over too much, and a defense that doesn't force enough turnovers. Since that Giants win, the Eagles are minus-18 in 11 games.
"Too many mistakes," Mathis said. "We turned the ball over too much. You've gotta win the turnover margin, to give yourself your best chance. It's apparent that turnovers are one of the most telling stats in football that can translate to winning."
Reid said last week he wasn't thinking about what looked like his final home game, last Sunday against the Redskins, so it was no shock that on Wednesday, he said he wasn't thinking about what looks like his final game, period.
"I haven't gone there, and I'm not going to go there," Reid said. "I'm going to get through this game, and make sure my football team's ready to go."
Part of Reid's challenge on that front is making sure Vick is ready to go. The 32-year-old QB last played on Nov. 11, in a home loss to the Cowboys in which he suffered a concussion. Vick has practiced the past 2 weeks and could have played last week, but the Eagles' plan was to finish the season with Foles, to get an idea of whether he is their quarterback of the future. Wednesday, Foles was placed on injured reserve after suffering a hairline fracture of the second metacarpal on his throwing hand in Sunday's loss to the Redskins.
"We'll see how it goes," Reid said, when asked whether he thought Vick might be rusty. "I want to see him in practice, see how he does . . . He didn't do much 2 weeks ago, but this past week, he got in and moved around a little bit and he looked pretty good . . . The speed of the game will be different than this practice, and it might take him a minute to get going, but he's been doing it for a long time, so maybe it won't take as long as what we all think."
Vick made it clear Wednesday that though he was willing to step into the background last week for the good of the team, he always wanted to be the starter, even with the playoffs out of reach.
"I wanted to get that feeling back, of what it's like to be behind the center, be in control," Vick said. "As a quarterback, I love being in control, and I miss it. I'm going to have an opportunity to go out there this week and play, and I'm excited about that."
Vick reiterated what he said Monday, that he thinks future employers already have a good sense of him, that the Giants game won't determine what sort of job he gets in 2013.
"I'm not putting pressure on myself to go out and try to put on a great performance, in the sense of an audition," Vick said. "The thing I'm truly confident about is my ability to play the game of football, what I know, what I've learned, the success I've had over the past years, what I can accomplish."
What he has accomplished this season has been far short of expectations. Vick has completed 185 of 316 passes (58.5 percent) for 2,165 yards (6.9 yards per attempt, his lowest figure in three seasons as an Eagles starter), 11 touchdowns, nine interceptions and five fumbles lost, in nine games. In August, Jeffrey Lurie noted that this is a quarterback-driven league, and said Vick would need to be among the NFL's best for the Eagles to contend for a title. He hasn't been, and they won't.
"My time has been great," Vick said, when asked about his 3 years as an Eagle. "I've enjoyed being here, I've enjoyed the coaches, I've enjoyed the teammates that I've had. Some have come and gone, but given the opportunity, I was able to go out and be productive in 2010, finished strong in 2011, and this year, it was just a roller-coaster ride. We had a lot of ups and downs. We had a lot of guys who got hurt."
What's left, Vick indicated, is "the joy we get, and the fulfillment, of still being able to go out and play the game."
Vick said that Reid "committed himself to being the best coach that he could be and having his players in the best possible position week in and week out, to try and win the games. You don't win them all, and every good thing comes to an end. If that is, the case . . . we don't know, and the same thing for me, throughout it all I can say we stay confident, we had fun, and we're going to try to go out and win this last one."