It's been just about two years to the day when Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid made a decision that would change the course of the careers of both Michael Vick and Kevin Kolb.
While the two quarterbacks and former teammates haven't always had the smoothest of paths in the time since, each has their respective club unbeaten heading into a key early-season clash between the Eagles and Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Kolb was anointed by Reid as the original successor to longtime signal-caller Donovan McNabb prior to the 2010 season, Vick's second in the NFL after returning from a two-year prison sentence for his well-documented involvement in a dog-fighting operation, but his tenure as the Eagles' No. 1 quarterback would be brief after sustaining a concussion in Philadelphia's opening game of that campaign. Vick stepped in and resurrected his derailed career with a brilliant 12-start performance that helped the Eagles to an NFC East title, and was rewarded with a lucrative five-year contract the following summer.
Vick's resurgence prompted Philadelphia to trade the still well-regarded Kolb to Arizona in August of 2011, but his tenure with the Cardinals has mostly been marred by injuries and inconsistent play. The sixth-year pro was edged out for the starting job by the lesser-credentialed John Skelton during this year's preseason, though an ankle sprain the latter suffered in the team's Week 1 matchup with Seattle pressed Kolb back into duty.
Kolb took advantage of the opportunity by directing a fourth-quarter touchdown drive that helped lift Arizona to a hard-earned 20-16 triumph over the NFC West-rival Seahawks, then accounted for two scores (1 passing, 1 rushing) to assist in the Cardinals' startling 20-18 road upset of New England last week.
With Skelton still sidelined with his injury, Kolb will now have the chance to try to show the Eagles they made a mistake in dealing him. Though the two teams did square off in Philadelphia last season, he missed the contest with a sprained toe.
"I've never done it before, so it'll be unique," Kolb said of facing the Eagles. "Hopefully I don't get too fired up."
The Cardinals also pulled off a stunner in last November's showdown, with Skelton throwing for a career-high 315 yards and three touchdowns as Arizona dealt the heavily favored Eagles a 21-17 defeat.
That result is part of a stretch of nine wins in 11 games for the Cardinals dating back to the midway point of last season. Arizona has gone 6-0 at University of Phoenix Stadium during that time frame, while each of those nine victories have come by six or less points.
Philadelphia is on quite a roll as well, and have been involved in a few recent squeakers of its own. After closing out an overall disappointing 2011 schedule with four consecutive wins, the Eagles have gotten off to a 2-0 start this season by producing a pair of narrow decisions over AFC North members Cleveland and Baltimore.
The Eagles pushed past the pesky Browns by a 17-16 count in Week 1 on a Vick touchdown pass with 1:18 left, then rallied from a 10-point halftime deficit for a thrilling 24-23 decision over the 2011 AFC runner-up Ravens last Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.
Philadelphia became the first team in NFL history to begin a season with two one-point wins, and have also overcome committing a combined nine turnovers in doing so. Vick was intercepted four times by Cleveland and picked off twice more while losing a fumble against Baltimore.
"It just goes to show how good we can be," Vick said. "It definitely shows how good our defense is, because they're stopping the offense and putting the ball back on our side so we can score points. I think at some point we'll cut down on the turnovers, we'll cut it back, but it's still early and we just have to get in tuned and stay in-sync with what we do in our offense.
I think it all starts with me, though."
Vick was still able to amass 371 passing yards in last week's comeback and capped a 10-play, 80-yard drive with a go-ahead touchdown run with 1:55 to play. Tight end Brent Celek did his part as well with a career-best 157 receiving yards on eight catches, and could remain an integral part of the game plan on Sunday after wide receiver Jeremy Maclin aggravated an existing hip problem that has status for this game undetermined.
The Eagles will be aiming for their first 3-0 start since prevailing in their first seven outings of their NFC championship season of 2004, while the Cardinals haven't posted three consecutive wins to begin a year since all the way back in 1974, when the franchise was still based in St. Louis.
Cardinals lead 54-53-5
Last Meeting: Cardinals 21, Eagles 17 (Nov. 13, 2011 at Philadelphia) Last Regular-Season Meeting at Site: Cardinals 27, Eagles 21 (Dec. 24, 2005 at Sun Devil Stadium)
Eagles HC Andy Reid vs. Cardinals: 5-6 Cardinals HC Ken Whisenhunt vs. Eagles: 2-1 Reid vs. Whisenhunt Head-to-Head: Whisenhunt leads, 2-1
Notes: Eagles' only previous visit to University of Phoenix Stadium came in the 2008 NFC Championship, which the Cardinals won by a 32-25 count to advance to their only Super Bowl, and they haven't beaten Arizona on the road since a 21-7 decision in Tempe on Nov. 4, 2001. Philadelphia's most recent victory in the series was a 48-20 home rout on Thanksgiving Night of 2008, and the Eagles have taken five of the last eight regular-season bouts between the teams since 2000. The teams also faced one another in the 1947 and 1948 NFL Championship Game, with each winning once.
BY THE NUMBERS
Offensive Team Rankings
Philadelphia: 1st overall (471.0 ypg), 8th rushing (139.5 ypg), 2nd passing (331.5 ypg), 27th scoring (20.5 ppg)
Arizona: 30th overall (249.0 ypg), 28th rushing (74.0 ypg), 30th passing (175.0 ypg), 28th scoring (20.0 ppg)
Defensive Team Rankings
Philadelphia: 4th overall (267.5 ypg), 15th rushing (105.0 ypg), 4th passing (162.5 ypg), 7th scoring (19.5 ppg)
Arizona: 13th overall (320.5 ypg), 13th rushing (102.5 ypg), tied 10th passing (218.0 ypg), 5th scoring (17.0 ppg)
Philadelphia: -3 (6 takeaways, 9 giveaways) Arizona: -1 (3 takeaways, 4 giveaways)
Red Zone Touchdown Percentage (offense)
Philadelphia: 57.1 percent (7 possessions, 4 TD, 1 FG) -- tied 15th overall Arizona: 66.7 percent (6 possessions, 4 TD, 2 FG) -- tied 5th overall
Red Zone Touchdown Percentage (defense)
Philadelphia: 25.0 percent (4 possessions, 1 TD, 2 FG) -- tied 2nd overall Arizona: 28.6 percent (7 possessions, 2 TD, 3 FG) -- 4th overall
WHEN THE EAGLES HAVE THE BALL
Moving the football hasn't been a problem for a Philadelphia offense that's averaged a league-best 471 yards over the first two weeks, with Vick's 688 passing yards over that stretch trailing only the New York Giants' Eli Manning for tops in the NFL. The Eagles only rank 27th in scoring, however, predominantly due to the multitude of giveaways the team has had in its pair of wins. Two of those occurred inside the Baltimore 15-yard line in the first half of last week's test, with Vick (688 passing yards, 3 TD, 6 INT) intercepted in the end zone and running back LeSean McCoy (191 rushing yards, 1 TD, 8 receptions) losing a fumble. Philadelphia was still able to pile up 486 total yards against the Ravens' traditionally strong defense, and that was with Maclin (8 receptions, 2 TD) largely a non-factor due to his ailing hip and starting center Jason Kelce incurring a season-ending knee injury in the third quarter. With a big division game against the Giants on deck, it wouldn't be surprising if Maclin is held out of this one, and last week's outburst showed the Eagles aren't in dire straits if he misses. The offense still possesses plenty of skill and speed, with Celek (12 receptions, 222 yards) stepping in seamlessly as the new No. 1 target and wide receiver DeSean Jackson (11 receptions, 191 yards) a dangerous vertical threat who recorded 114 yards on seven catches against Baltimore despite being hindered by a sore hamstring. Philadelphia also has an outstanding all-around running back in McCoy, though the 2011 All-Pro has now coughed up the ball in two straight contests, and Vick remains one of the league's premier scrambling quarterbacks even at age 32.
A formidable Arizona defense that continually hounded and frustrated Tom Brady a week ago figures to present a stern challenge for the Eagles' playmakers, as was the case when these teams met last November. The Cardinals successfully took Vick out his passing rhythm that day, with high-motor lineman Darnell Dockett (9 tackles) routinely wreaking havoc up front and supremely talented young cornerback Patrick Peterson (5 tackles, 1 INT, 2 PD) able to shut down Maclin, with the Philadelphia wideout managing a mere six yards on two catches and Vick completing an off-target 16-of-34 throws for 128 yards and a pair of interceptions. The Eagles did not have Jackson for that game, however, as he was serving a team-issued suspension. Arizona's pass rush was also effective against the Patriots, with long-armed end Calais Campbell (11 tackles, 2 sacks) registering two sacks of Brady as part of a 10-tackle afternoon and second-year outside linebacker Sam Acho (4 tackles, 1 sack) also able to create disruption off the edge. Rangy inside linebacker Daryl Washington (23 tackles, 1 sack) added 13 stops last week and keys a run-stopping contingent that's held opponents to a modest 3.4 yards per carry thus far, and he's also a capable blitzer whom Philadelphia will have to account for. The Cardinals were hurt by New England's Wes Welker out of the slot last week, with the prolific receiver compiling 95 yards on five catches, and inside corner William Gay (12 tackles) and veteran linebacker Paris Lenon (17 tackles, 2 sacks) -- who may often be matched up on Celek -- could be marked men on Sunday.
WHEN THE CARDINALS HAVE THE BALL
While Arizona's defense and special teams have been lights-out during the team's surprising start, the offense remains a work in progress heading into this tilt. The Cardinals have gotten a meager output out of the ground game to date, with the running back combo of Beanie Wells (58 rushing yards) and Ryan Williams (22 rushing yards, 4 receptions) averaging a poor 2.1 yards per attempt over the first two games, with Williams also losing a pair of fumbles. Making matters worse, tight end Todd Heap (8 receptions) -- who served as Kolb's preferred receiver last week with the Patriots going all-out to neutralize difference-making wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (5 receptions) -- sprained his knee in the win and is questionable to play on Sunday. Though projected replacement Rob Housler is extremely athletic, the second-year pro owns just 13 career receptions to Heap's 499. Fitzgerald had only a single four-yard catch against the New England defensive backs, but the six-time Pro Bowler torched the Eagles for 146 yards and two touchdowns on seven grabs in last year's matchup and will undeniably be Kolb's first read most of the time this week, with slot receiver Early Doucet (6 receptions) a decent secondary option underneath. Kolb only managed 140 yards on 15-of-27 passing against the Patriots, but wasn't intercepted and largely made quick and good decisions out of the pocket.
Though a makeshift Arizona offensive line held up fairly well against New England's pass rushers last week, the task could be considerably tougher against a swarming Philadelphia front that boasts a pair of elite disrupters in ends Jason Babin (5 tackles, 1 sack) and Trent Cole (3 tackles, 1 sacks) as well as two quick interior penetrators in tackles Derek Landri and Cullen Jenkins. Their ability to bring steady pressure has helped the Eagles hold opposing quarterbacks to an anemic 35.1 passer rating through the first two games, as has a secondary that's accounted for four of the team's five interceptions and features two quality cornerbacks in four-time All-Pro Nnamdi Asomugha (3 PD) and ex-Cardinal Dominique-Rodgers Cromartie (2 INT, 4 PD), the player Philadelphia acquired in the Kolb trade. Asomugha will likely be assigned to shadow Fitzgerald, which should be one of the game's more intriguing head-to-head battles. Safety Nate Allen (15 tackles) also did a good job against Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta in last Sunday's win and leads the club in tackles, while the run defense headed by heady middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans (13 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) was mostly solid. Baltimore's Ray Rice did rush for 99 yards on 16 carries last week, but a good chunk of that total came on a 43-yard spurt.
Considering the Cardinals' tendency for close games and the Eagles having been involved in a pair of one-point outcomes in their first two tests, the probability of another nail-biter seems like a good bet. With both teams fielding very good defenses that don't give up much ground, the deciding factor could come down to which one is able to move the ball with greater authority. Philadelphia does have a significant advantage in terms of overall offensive talent, and if Vick can overcome his recent turnover woes, the Eagles stand a good chance of leaving with another hard-fought victory. Though Arizona has had a knack of coming up with momentum-shifting plays from various sources, how Kolb handles the pressure that Philadelphia's disruptive defensive line is sure to bring will determine whether or not the Cardinals can pull off another surprise.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Eagles 19, Cardinals 13