Does a bruised hand signify broken dreams?
When former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham was lost for the season in the team's 1991 opener against Green Bay, many were under the impression the team would just pack it in.
Without what Sports Illustrated dubbed as the "ultimate weapon" at the time, the Eagles rallied for a 10-6 record under a shoddy quarterback carousel of Jim McMahon, Jeff Kemp, Brad Goebel and Pat Ryan before eventually missing out on a postseason berth. Luckily for that 1991 squad, the defense was one of the best the NFL has ever seen and saved the Eagles from potential embarrassment.
Fast forward 20 years and the Eagles are in a similar predicament, only this time the defense has more questions than answers and appears to be more of a longshot to keep the team competitive by itself.
Eagles quarterback Michael Vick could miss some time with what head coach Andy Reid described as a right hand contusion. Several reports speculated that Vick suffered a fractured hand during the third quarter of Sunday's 29-16 loss to the New York Giants after he took a hit from defensive lineman Chris Canty.
Vick, who played despite suffering a slight concussion in a loss at Atlanta the week before, rallied the Eagles from a 14-0 deficit to grab a short-lived 16-14 edge early in the second half. He later played the referee card afterwards by expressing his displeasure to the media post-game.
"There's no reason for me to go into a big dissertation about why I'm not getting the calls," Vick stated. "The refs, they have to do their job as well. I even mentioned it in training camp to the refs when we had our little meeting, so just for precaution. But hey, I don't know."
One thing is for sure, the Eagles haven't lived up to backup quarterback Vince Young's preseason billing as a "dream team" through the first three weeks. Young may have to put his money where his mouth is now that Vick is hurt, as youngster Mike Kafka hasn't done much to prove he belongs as the No. 2 signal- caller. The Eagles, of course, are hoping Vick can bounce back from his injury and play Sunday versus San Francisco, but that will take several bags of ice along with some prayers and patience.
Vick has played an entire season injury-free just once in his career. He may keep that dubious distinction intact if he's not able to take snaps with his sore non-throwing hand against the 49ers.
The Eagles are no doubt in some trouble right now with a 1-2 mark and an injury to one of their top offensive stars. Vick has taken several shots already in the three games because of his sometimes reckless style of play, though he has been sacked surprisingly only four times.
Young is an athletic type of quarterback much like Cunningham, Vick or Donovan McNabb, but may not be 100 percent because of a preseason hamstring issue he is recovering from. Kafka, a typical pocket passer, hasn't given Eagles fans much to feel confident about when his number has been called the last two weeks.
The last two games have been a blur for Philadelphia, which opened this highly-anticipated campaign with a convincing win at St. Louis. The team then blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter of a 35-31 loss to Atlanta in Week 2 before red-zone struggles cost the Eagles again on Sunday.
Philadelphia has converted touchdowns on just 6-of-10 chances inside the red zone in its previous two contests, while the opposition has hit paydirt in all six of its opportunities within the 20-yard line.
"We have to score," said Eagles fullback Owen Schmitt. "It's plain and simple. It's not even a question. If anyone watched the game, you have to score when you're down [in the red zone]. You can't win ball games if you don't score. Three points are always nice, but it's not like seven."
On a more positive note, running back LeSean McCoy has been a stud so far for the Eagles this season, with the third-year pro carrying the ball a career-high 24 times for 128 yards and a touchdown versus New York. It was his fifth career 100-yard rushing performance, a stat he now may get more of a chance to improve now that Vick is nursing a bum hand.
McCoy has proven he can carry the load, but it leaves one to question how efficient he can be if the opposing defense no longer has to worry about Vick and his obvious skill set.
THIS MANNING IS MAKING ALL THE RIGHT HEADLINES
With Indianapolis Colts all-world quarterback Peyton Manning soaking up the headlines with his season-threatening neck injury, younger brother Eli just keeps on winning.
The New York Giants signal-caller dusted aside a Week 1 loss at Washington with back-to-back winning performances against the Rams and Eagles, and threw four touchdown passes in Sunday's hard-fought victory in Philadelphia. Eli Manning helped his team snap a six-game losing streak in the series with the Eagles and was happy to get the best of the Giants' NFC East-rival on its home turf.
"It's always great to beat the Eagles on their home field, because they have great players," said Manning, whose 145.7 passer rating was his highest ever in a full game. "We felt coming in that we could beat these guys because we should have last year. We knew we had to win the fourth quarter. This year, unlike last year, we won the last eight minutes of the game. It was a big win for us."
Manning got some help from undrafted rookie Victor Cruz. With wide receiver Mario Manningham out with a concussion and Hakeem Nicks ineffective for much of the afternoon, Cruz put himself temporarily on the map with 110 receiving yards and two scores -- including a 74-yard touchdown reception -- on only three catches. Cruz's big scoring play followed a Brandon Jacobs' 40-yard catch and run for a touchdown earlier in the first quarter as the Giants built a 14-0 lead.
Cruz's confidence has to be through the roof after beating Philadelphia's vaunted secondary that contains Pro Bowl corners Nnamdi Asomugha and Asante Samuel, and could give the Giants a triple threat when Manningham returns from his injury.
Even though New York blew a seemingly-comfortable early lead, it was the defense that willed the team to victory by making crucial stops. Eagles running back LeSean McCoy was stuffed on fourth down by Giants linebacker Michael Boley in the fourth quarter and cornerback Aaron Ross intercepted two passes, becoming the first Giants player to post a pair of picks in a game since Kenny Phillips did so at Dallas on Sept. 20, 2009. Phillips had an interception as well on Sunday.
"People don't understand how tough it is to play cornerback in this league, especially with what we want out of our corners," said Giants defensive end Justin Tuck. "[Ross] is out there a lot on the island, and these guys [the Eagles] get paid too. They're going to make plays, but [Sunday] was just one of his days."
The Giants have played inspired football after entering the season with a laundry list of injuries on the defense, especially in the backfield. They played rough enough to knock Eagles quarterback Michael Vick out of the game with an injured right hand and also prevented Philadelphia's top receivers in DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin from making climatic plays.
So far the Giants also appear to be on track with their offense thanks to Manning and the play of running backs Ahmad Bradshaw and Jacobs, while the defense continues to surprise each week.
New York will travel to Arizona on Sunday to take on the pass-happy Cardinals before hosting Seattle and Buffalo before the bye week. It easily can be 5-1 before welcoming struggling Miami to the Meadowlands on Oct. 30.
WHAT'S UP WITH THE FALCONS?
Save for a big 35-31 win over Philadelphia in Week 2, the Atlanta Falcons haven't done anything to reflect their preseason billing as a Super Bowl contender.
The Falcons lost at Chicago in the season opener by a 30-12 score before beating the Eagles on four touchdown passes from Matt Ryan. Their comeback attempt fell short this Sunday, however, in a 16-13 setback at Tampa Bay, as the Bucs grinded out 115 rushing yards and kept the ball out of Ryan's hands for most of the second half.
Ryan has also been a rag doll so far this season, having been sacked 13 times in the three games, including four times Sunday.
"I felt like we fought our tails off to get back into the game," Falcons head coach Mike Smith said. "We didn't play very well. We didn't do a whole lot of good things in the first three quarters. At the end of the day we just dug ourselves too big of a hole."
Rookie wideout Julio Jones finally had the breakout performance the Falcons were counting on when they surrendered a lot to get his services in April's draft, however. Jones ended with 115 yards on a season-high six receptions, though he was held out of the end zone for a third straight week. Tight end Tony Gonzalez hadn't been counted on to be Ryan's top receiving threat, but scored his third touchdown of the season in Sunday's loss, while wide receiver Roddy White made up for a slow week versus Philadelphia by hauling in nine passes for 140 yards on Sunday.
Falcons running back Michael Turner was cooled off after consecutive 100-yard efforts, though, finishing with just 20 yards on 11 carries against the Buccaneers. Turner was the centerpiece of last year's offense, though that hasn't been the case so far in 2011.
Atlanta must get its act together offensively if it has any intentions on turning this around. The defense has had its rough moments too, but more importantly the offense's inconsistent production is leaving many to wonder how good this team really is.
The Falcons did force two turnovers against the Buccaneers, giving the team at least one takeaway in each of its last 22 games -- the longest current active streak in the NFL.
A visit to Seattle this Sunday is next on Atlanta's agenda before a 2010 NFC Playoff rematch with Green Bay slated for Oct. 9 at the Georgia Dome.