No happy ending for Vick

SCOTT GARBARINI, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 3:35 PM ET

Michael Vick's storybook season didn't come with the fairytale finish the Philadelphia Eagles and their fans were hoping for.

The clock struck midnight for the reformed quarterback when his final pass of Sunday's NFC Wild Card showdown with the Green Bay Packers was intercepted in the end zone, closing the final chapter on Vick's remarkable comeback tale and leaving yet another promising period for the Eagles to end in familiar frustration.

Philadelphia had its chances in the 21-16 loss to the sixth-seeded Packers, but a slow start on offence, repeated breakdowns on the defensive end, and an ill- timed off day from usually automatic kicker David Akers were all contributing factors to the NFC East champions' swift and sudden ousting from the playoffs.

The Eagles still nearly overcame all those obstacles behind another determined performance from Vick, who deftly engineered a critical 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that brought his team within five points with just over four minutes to play. The standout signal-caller would later march the offence to the Packers' 27-yard line in the final minute, before making his unintended contribution to Philadelphia's game-long assemblage of mistakes.

Vick's underthrow of well-covered rookie receiver Riley Cooper on a first-down play was snared by Green Bay cornerback Tramon Williams in the end zone, thwarting the Eagles' last remaining threat.

"We had four verticals [receivers] and I just took a shot at the end zone," Vick explained afterward. "I could have checked it down to the back, [but] I feel like I got greedy and took a shot at the end zone and didn't throw the right ball I wanted to throw and then it got picked off.

"It's a bad way to go out, but hey, I went out swinging."

Whether or not that pass will be Vick's last in an Eagles uniform has yet to be determined. The 30-year-old is unquestionably the most notable -- and most important -- of Philadelphia's cast of impending unrestricted free agents and in spite of his considerable baggage, would certainly command heavy interest if allowed to hit the open market.

Vick's first season of extended action since returning from a well-publicized two-year prison stay for his involvement in an illegal dog-fighting operation was a smashing success. The former No. 1 overall pick established career bests for passing yards (3,018), touchdown throws (21) and completion percentage (62.6) while maintaining his trademark scrambling skills, and his progression as a leader may have even exceeded the significant strides he made as a passer.

The Eagles do believe they have a ready-made replacement in backup Kevin Kolb, so the possibility that the organization will allow Vick to test the free-agent waters does exist. The more likely scenario is that Philadelphia will designate Vick as its franchise player in 2011, assuming that's an option if and when a new labour agreement takes place. That would enable the team to keep its offensive catalyst in the fold for at least one more year, as well as further evaluate whether Vick's 2010 breakthrough wasn't a fluke.

"I hope [to be back] but in this business, you never know," said Vick after Sunday's loss. "We'll see. I'm going to stay optimistic and keep believing. I still feel like I can play at a high level for the next couple of years."

AKERS OFF THE MARK

Akers concluded what could also be the longtime Eagle's final game with the franchise on a very down note, with the five-time Pro Bowl kicker missing a pair of attainable field goal attempts in Sunday's setback. He misfired on a 41-yard try in the first quarter, then later shanked a 34-yarder early in the fourth with his team trailing 21-10.

Philadelphia needed a touchdown on its final drive as a result of the second miss, with Vick eventually throwing the game-sealing interception.

"I really feel badly for my teammates, coaches, the organization and all that," Akers said afterward. "I've made a lot of kicks in my day. [Sunday], missing them, it hurts. I don't know what else to say. I didn't do what I should be doing."

Akers' rough outing was even more startling when considering his track record of postseason success. The 36-year-old holds the NFL record for consecutive field goals made (19) and entered the contest having connected on 20 of his last 21 three-point attempts in the postseason.

The 12th-year veteran, the Eagles' all-time leader in games played (188), had been just about as reliable during this year's regular season, making good on 32-of-38 endeavours in earning a second consecutive Pro Bowl nod.

Several Philadelphia players stated following the loss that Akers had been dealing with an unspecified health concern regarding a family member during the week, which his agent, Jerrold Colton, later confirmed. Colton also told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he and the Eagles had preliminary discussions about a contract extension for his client, who's also set to enter free agency in March, but that the current uncertain labour situation put those talks on hold.

DEFENCE BADLY IN THE RED

Philadelphia's defence had struggled to contain the opposition within the red zone all throughout the regular season, and those problems lingered into Sunday's defeat. Green Bay scored touchdowns on all three of its trips within the Eagles' 20-yard line.

The Eagles surrendered touchdowns on a troubling 76.9% of opponent's red-zone chances prior to the playoffs, the worst rate of success in the league.

"It's just one of those things we just could not get corrected all year," noted cornerback Dimitri Patterson. "It came back to bite us again. We just couldn't capitalize, for whatever reason."

On the flip side, Philadelphia netted just one touchdown on three possessions inside the Green Bay 20, with one culminating in an Akers field goal and the last ending in the slumping kicker's fourth-quarter miss.

Although the Packers gained a modest 309 total yards for the game, 210 of those came on the three touchdown drives, each of which were 10 plays or more. Green Bay also converted 8-of-13 third-down chances and often put itself in manageable situations by unleashing an effective running game spearheaded by little-used rookie James Starks, who grinded out a highly-impressive 123 yards on 23 carries.

"We knew they were going to run the ball, but when it's time to make plays, you've got to make plays," said Eagles linebacker Jamar Chaney. "It's the playoffs -- you've got to step up."

LOOKING AHEAD

Despite advancing to the playoffs for a third consecutive season, three straight losses to finish off the 2010 campaign -- the first time that's happened during head coach Andy Reid's 12-year tenure -- and back-to-back first-round flameouts in the postseason show there's more work that needs to be done to mold the Eagles into a championship contender.

While Vick's status will be the team's primary offseason priority, there are more decisions that need to be made on the defensive side during what's shaping up to be another busy offseason for Philadelphia. Stewart Bradley and Ernie Sims, two of the Eagles' three starting linebackers, are set to be unrestricted free agents along with valued strong safety Quintin Mikell, and an upgrade opposite playmaking cornerback Asante Samuel will be sought out as well in the coming months.

Philadelphia will also likely address its situation along the offensive line, one of the team's problem areas in 2010. The unit permitted 50 sacks during the regular season, tied for the second-most in the NFL, and has a pair of prospective free agents in Max Jean-Gilles and Nick Cole, neither of whom turned heads in splitting snaps at right guard.

There's also a potentially volatile case involving big-play wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who has one year remaining in his rookie contract but has made overtures about his desire for a big payday in past offseasons.

The Eagles will possess the 23rd selection in the first round of this year's draft, where the team could look to shore up one of its pressing needs at cornerback, linebacker or the offensive line. Don't count on Philadelphia staying at that spot, though. The Eagles moved up to obtain its top selections (wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, defensive end Brandon Graham) in each of the past two years and traded out of the opening round in both the 2007 and 2008 editions.


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