For six seasons, Michael Vick was the face of the Atlanta Falcons. The quarterback carried the weight of the franchise with great aplomb, including an 11-4 record as starting QB in 2004. However, his infamous criminal sentence and subsequent prison time harmed that legacy.
The Falcons quietly released Vick after his arrest. But the time away from the NFL did not diminish Vick’s abilities. In fact, Atlanta may retroactively regret not reconciling with the QB’s mistakes, because he didn’t play his best season there.
Michael Vick’s suspension made waves in the NFL
Michael Vick’s suspension was a national story that received constant media attention for weeks. The story became bigger than the NFL in part due to the horrifying nature of Vick’s involvement in a dog-fighting ring.
The situation was fraught from several angles due to Vick’s instrumental role in bankrolling the gambling side of the illegal business, a major faux pas for active athletes. There were few reasons for the NFL to back him up.
But the reason the initial news instantly became something of national interest was due to Vick’s record on the field. The disappointment from the league, press, and fans was so strong because Vick’s contributions to the game had meant so much up to that point.
Vick’s seasons with the Falcons
The importance of Vick’s initial NFL career began when the Falcons drafted him with the No. 1 overall pick in 2001. This was years before the current wave of black QBs seen in the league today. Many black players simply never got the chance in their pre-NFL development years.
Vick backed up the hype with action in Atlanta. He broke the QB rushing record for a single game, with 173 yards. He dragged the previously ailing Falcons to the playoffs twice. He was the first QB to ever rush more than 1,000 yards by the end of the regular season, in 2006.
That last feat is where he left off when the dogfighting revelations exiled him from the NFL for two years. No quarterback has surpassed Vick’s rushing record until phenom Lamar Jackson pulled it off just days ago. Somehow, Vick’s best work was yet to come.
The best season of Vick’s career was with the Eagles
Vick returned to NFL eligibility without a job. The Falcons declined to weather the inevitable media storm that ensued upon continuing Vick’s contract. They released him with little fanfare.
The picture of the reformed man, Vick made a self-admittedly grievous mistake and approached the league hat in hand. The Philadelphia Eagles obliged in a risky move resulting in one of the best offenses in Eagles history.
Although the Eagles were tentative to use the controversial QB too frequently, Vick went 8-3 over his starts with a 62.6 completion rate. (Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb were both named starters before Vick finally got his chance.) On September 21, 2010, he got the nod. And Vick quickly proved it was the right choice.
When Vick had one of the best QB performances in NFL history
Vick was at the center of one of the more notoriously one-sided matchups between the Eagles and Washington Redskins.
Minutes after the game ended, the press deemed it “the Monday Night Massacre.” Vick threw six touchdowns, with the added narrative flourish of the Redskins being led by the Eagles’ original first choice, McNabb.
He blew past 300 passing yards, 50 rushing yards, four passing touchdowns, and two rushing touchdowns. This was the moment when all criticism of Vick’s performances during his redemption arc came to an end. He was still great. Actually, he was never better.