The Michael Vick breathwatch has begun. The question is simple: when will the last gulp of air be forced from his body by another hit?
It was the overarching question for the Eagles on a disaster of an afternoon in Arizona. During a game where very little went right, in any phase, Vick was pulverized by the Cardinals' impressive defense. If the Eagles' quarterback wasn't hit 20 times during the Eagles' 27-6 defeat, the number was in that black-and-blue neighborhood. And if he survived this day, and he did, he cannot survive many more.
Easily half of the damage was self-inflicted, hits that could have been avoided if Vick were willing to throw the ball sooner. That isn't to argue that there were tons of people open -- Jeremy Maclin did not play because of a hip injury and, yes, it did matter -- but Vick's continued insistence on hanging on and then hanging on some more in the hope that something good might happen is borderline masochistic at this point. He really is hurting himself.
The other half of the hits could be blamed on an offensive line re-jiggered because of injuries, and on pass-first play-calling in the first half despite all of the punishment being absorbed by Vick, and by the fact that the Cardinals' defense is very good. But the total punishment was the total punishment, and two more Vick fumbles were two more turnovers for the league leaders in that department.
The one on the last play of the first half was the game-sealer, when Vick was hit from behind on a blitz by Arizona safety Kerry Rhodes, causing a fumble that was picked up by James Sanders and returned 93 yards for a touchdown. If Vick can get the Eagles in there -- or if DeSean Jackson hadn't been stood up on a reception just short of the goal line before the dreadful sequence began -- the Eagles would have been trailing by 17-7. Instead, it was 24-0. Oh, and one more thing: with no timeouts and only a few ticks remaining in the half, Vick has to be aware of that pressure and just unload the ball.
We've all been talking about this for the better part of two years. Sometimes, it is a narrative in search of some facts -- because it isn't always like this, not every week. But it is the games such as these that no one can forget. Down the stretch there in the first half, it was fair to wonder if Vick had been clocked once too often. It was entirely appropriate to be concerned about his health, and about the long term -- because, no matter how frustrating this is, the best chance the Eagles have this season is for Vick to end it upright and on the field.
And, now, it is hard not to wonder.
How much more can he take?