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With His Back Against The Wall, Vick Is At His Most Dangerous

IRVING, Texas - Criticism is not a new thing to Michael Vick.

In fact, criticism has largely defined his career in one way or another. The most positive moments of Vick's career have been when he has "proven people wrong."

There's a reason that those words are rarely used (anymore) for quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees when they play well. They are consistently good and, therefore, don't have to prove anyone wrong.  But "consistent" has rarely been a word used to describe Vick.

Actually, there's a much more common word that gets thrown around for Vick: "dangerous."

Vick is not the type of player that a gambling man would want to bet on every week. Rather, he's the type of player that a gambling man would want to avoid betting against, especially when he's playing with his back against the wall.

Vick has been counted out numerous times in his career. Most famously, back in 2007 when he was caught in the center of a dog-fighting controversy. Vick was found guilty of a federal felony and was sentenced to 23 months in prison. He was suspended indefinitely from the NFL and filed for bankruptcy.

These are the kind of things that end careers in any profession.  

But after serving his sentence, Vick did the unthinkable. He not only returned to the NFL, but he came back as a better player than he was when he left. Claiming to be a changed man, Vick won the starting quarterback job of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2010 and posted by far the best passer rating of his career at 100.2. He did this without losing any of the explosiveness or playmaking abilities that made him famous in Atlanta.

Vick became perhaps the most polarizing athlete of all time. To some, he was the epitome of a classic redemption story; man pays for his mistakes and perseveres, coming back stronger than ever. Others refused to forgive him for his horrendous crimes.

Even at its best, Vick's game is polarizing as well. Some say that the quarterback position cannot be played on the run the way Vick plays it.

And this year those same critics have plenty of ammunition for their argument. In less than two years, Vick has gone from the Eagles' new favorite son to a man that many are demanding be benched.

The people of Philadelphia will support players who lead their team to wins. But with the Eagles sitting at 3-5 and Vick accounting for 13 turnovers, the redemption storyline has long worn off.

Careless decisions and red-zone turnovers may have Vick on the hot seat, but don't think that he is completely to blame for the Eagles' struggles. Various injuries have resulted in probably the NFL's worst offensive line. When the Eagles put right tackle, Todd Herrremans on injury reserve with a season-ending ankle injury on Wednesday, it meant that they would be playing without four of their five projected starters from the preseason.

And no one has paid the price more than the quarterback. A man who is famous all around the world for eluding tackles leads the NFL in quarterback hits with 71. In comparison, the Cowboys have allowed 26 QB hits on Tony Romo.

"It's been tough this year," Vick said. "I've been hit more than I've ever been hit in my career."

But when the results aren't good, the blame goes to the top. Type in the words "Vick benched" in Google and you will be given 311,000 results. Everyone from football bloggers to Hall of Fame quarterbacks are chipping in with their opinion on whether or not Vick should be sitting on the sideline, watching his offense play without him.

For all the things Vick has been through in his life, he's never experienced the threat of being benched.

"It was tough," Vick said. "It was tough dealing with that. That's something I'd never dealt with in my career. It certainly was a distraction. I just continued to try and work through it and try to play the best football that I could. And try not to turn the ball over or put my team in jeopardy."

Vick used the word "was" because, as far as he is concerned, it is in the past. After a loss to the Saints last Monday in which the Eagles were unable to convert on any of their five trips to the red zone, Eagles' head coach Andy Reid remained committed to Vick, simply saying, "Michael Vick will be the quarterback," referring to this Sunday's game against Dallas.

Reid, who many believe to be on the hot seat himself, has been criticized for his support of Vick. However, Reid certainly is not in an enviable position. The logic for benching him is fairly simple. Despite moving the ball relatively well all season, Vick has personally created momentum-changing plays almost every game – for the opposing team that is.

The Eagles season is quickly fading away and what evidence is there to suggest that Vick's best days aren't behind him? They drafted a promising rookie quarterback out of Arizona in the third round in Nick Foles. If they give Foles a chance this season, he may come into next year prepared to lead the potent Eagles' offense from Day 1.

That's the theory for benching Vick. The theory for sticking with him is a little more complicated. It starts and stops with the four words, "He is Michael Vick." He has always accomplished his most impressive feats when the doubters were at their highest.

In his second year in the NFL, he was loved by most video gamers and doubted by most football traditionalist. In his final game of the season, he threw an interception that contributed to disappointing 24-16 loss to the Cleveland Browns. Yet the Falcons sneaked into the playoffs with an 8-8 record.

Then Vick followed that up by doing something that demanded the nation's attention. He became the first opposing quarterback to win a playoff game at Lambeau Field. Even after that, Vick was supposed to be a flash in the pan, but 10 years later, he is one of the few quarterbacks that is still starting for an NFL team.

Obviously, he was counted out when he went to prison, but he came back to have some of the most statistically impressive games of his career. At the end of the day, no one on the planet can do the things that Michael Vick can when he is playing at his best. And for whatever reason, he plays his best when the critics are in full force. And that's why benching him would be such a difficult decision.

Because Vick has been a topic of conversation for over a decade, it is easy to assume that his career should be winding down. But, he is only one year older than Eli Manning and he is actually a month younger than Tony Romo.

Regardless of what the fans and media suggest, Vick will be the starting quarterback against the Cowboys this Sunday and that's exactly what he is thinking about.

"My primary focus is helping the team win," Vick said. "I care about the guys in this locker room and I see how hard they work. My main priority is to just try to help them.

If Vick only seems to get better the more people doubt him, don't count head coach Jason Garrett as one of the skeptics.

"He's certainly gotten sacked a lot," Garrett said, "but he's still an explosive athlete and such an electrifying player. He can run, he can throw the football. Obviously he's shown through his career that he can make huge plays with his feet and extending plays with his feet. He's just an outstanding player and a great physical challenge for us."

After everything that Vick's been through in his life, media scrutiny doesn't bother him. He just wants his teammates to continue to support him and he knows that resiliency is the best way to accomplish that.

"Great leaders are those who inspire others to lead as well," Vick said. "That's what I'm trying to do."

Vick has taken a lot of hits this season. But then again, he's been knocked down plenty throughout his life. It's when he gets back up that he is usually at his most dangerous. Hopefully for the Cowboys, they aren't catching him on his way up.

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