PHILADELPHIA — Sunday looms as a giant stepping stone for either Michael Vick or Aaron Rodgers.
In Vick’s case, it will be a continuation of the redemption theme that has enveloped him this season, ever since he took over for the injured Kevin Kolb in the opening game of the season.
From a starting quarterback, to a star, to a convicted felon, to a bench-warmer and back to a starring role, the Vick story has been a compelling one for the athlete, the Eagles and their fans.
Given the way that Vick has performed this season and the MVP chatter that surrounds his name, a victory over the Packers would add more shine to his legacy.
A victory for Rodgers, meanwhile, would be equally significant and mark his first post-season win, with many more expected to follow.
In these parts the Vick mystique has reached the point where it is almost unthinkable that he could lose, at least not in the opening wild-card round. It’s even infected the veteran players who were led in the playoffs in past years by Donovan McNabb.
“I feel like we definitely have more of an opportunity,” Eagles strong safety Quintin Mikell said. “I don’t want to say that we didn’t win with (McNabb), but obviously, the way Mike’s been playing this year, we feel like anything’s possible.”
For his part, Vick seems to be taking it all in stride and is enjoying the moment.
“A lot of people didn’t expect us to be in this situation and didn’t give us a chance or had doubt that we would make it,” Vick said.
“Yeah, it’s a new era (for the Eagles), so we’re just trying to go out and make our mark and play good football.”
For the Packers, meanwhile, their offence has been a one-man show. With no running game to speak of after the season-ending injury to Ryan Grant, Rodgers has been the Packers offence. How he goes, so goes the team.
“I would say Aaron Rodgers’ season is probably as much in line with the season we have had as an offence,” Packers head coach Mike McCarthy told reporters in Green Bay.
“We’ve been a little bit up and down at times, and if you look at point production, it’s reflected in that.
“I think Rodgers has had a good year, but it’s time for him and the offence to put their best foot forward when we go to Philadelphia.”
As far as the game being a measuring stick of sorts, a personal hurdle he must clear, Rodgers doesn’t look at it that way.
Last year, the Packers were eliminated after losing a shootout against Kurt Warner and the Arizona Cardinals, a 51-45 overtime humdinger where he threw four touchdowns but also two interceptions that were turned into 14 points.
Still, he doesn’t believe he has anything to prove.
“Everybody outside of this building would say it’s not another game,” Rodgers said this week. “But for me, I don’t make it bigger than it is.
“That’s how I control the nerves, the internal pressure that I put on myself. I prepare the same way, I practice the same way, I’m the same guy in the locker room. I’m the same guy on the practice field.
“A lot of times we’ll joke around here about panic. Like in that movie Semi-Pro. ‘Everybody panic, we’re in the playoffs now!’ This is not going to happen here.”
His play this season has been exemplary and he has developed into being one of the top three or four quarterbacks in the league.
McCarthy is both thrilled and confident that he has a quarterback of Rodgers’ abilities.
“Aaron Rodgers needs to be himself,” McCarthy said. “He’s established a brand of football at the quarterback position that’s pretty damn good and I’m glad he’s our quarterback.
“His numbers have been phenomenal for his first three years and he needs to go out and play to the standard he has set. Aaron staying true to his standard of play, his brand of football, everything else will take care of itself.”
Really, it comes down to who plays best on Sunday.