PHILADELPHIA – Michael Vick turned a season that began with low expectations into one filled with highlights and high hopes.
It ended in bitter disappointment — the same way it usually does for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Vick led the Eagles (10-7) to an NFC East title, but a 21-16 loss to Green Bay in a wild-card game on Sunday spoiled his remarkable comeback story.
So, the first season without Donovan McNabb finished just like the 11 with him. No Super Bowl victory for the Eagles, who haven't won a championship since 1960.
Now the Eagles head into an offseason filled with uncertainty, mainly because of the NFL labor contract. Vick is set to become a free agent, and there are no guarantees he'll be back.
"We'll see," coach Andy Reid said Monday when asked who will be the team's starting quarterback next season.
The Eagles still have Kevin Kolb, who began this season as the starter. An injury to Kolb in Week 1 paved the way for Vick, and he played better than anyone expected. Vick had the best season of his career, set personal highs in nearly every passing category and was selected to start the Pro Bowl.
"We're going to have to wait and see, but I really do hope I am (back)," Vick said. "I enjoyed this season. I enjoyed the group of guys that I played with. I enjoyed the progress and the success that we all made as a young team. I think the sky's the limit."
Kolb wants to be a starter whether it's here or with another team. He sat for three seasons behind McNabb before finally getting his chance only to see it last one half of one game. Kolb has played well in most of his seven career starts. He's a luxury to have as a backup because Vick's running style and troubles on the offensive line make him prone to injuries.
But Kolb isn't satisfied with just carrying a clipboard.
"I want to be starting somewhere," Kolb said.
Kolb's contract situation makes him even more attractive to other teams, though Philadelphia's asking price will be high. The Eagles gave Kolb a one-year extension and an $11 million bonus after they traded McNabb to Washington. But Kolb is scheduled to make just $1.4 million next year.
Reid would like both quarterbacks back, and he doesn't mind that Kolb wants to start.
"I'm fired up to hear him say that," Reid said. "You want any player, especially a quarterback, to want to be a great player. That's important at that position. I would love to have him back. Same with Michael. I want him back. They are tremendous players."
Just a couple weeks ago, Vick was considered an MVP candidate and the Eagles were the talk of the NFL. They had just staged an incredible rally to beat the New York Giants, were 10-4 and in position to earn a first-round bye.
But a stunning loss to lowly Minnesota on Dec. 28 in a game that was postponed two days because of a snow storm in Philadelphia cost the Eagles a bye, and it seemingly dashed their chances to make a deep run.
"When you have a team that has as much talent as we have, it's tough to end it like we did," wide receiver Jason Avant said. "I will remember some of the things we did well. But, in the offseason, I think the things that fuel you for the next season are the things that you do wrong. I will look back at it. I don't think I made enough plays this year for my team. Everybody has to look at themselves and think about what they can do better, on every side, coaches and players. We're certainly disappointed. We're going to be humble as we can in order to turn it around."
The Eagles have talented young players at the skill positions, and the offense set a franchise record for points (439). Wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, running back LeSean McCoy and tight end Brent Celek form a solid nucleus.
But the team still needs help in plenty other areas. On offense, the first priority is improving the line — particularly the right side. Protecting Vick was a problem and he took a lot of hard hits. The team allowed 50 sacks, a total that certainly would be much higher if not for Vick's sensational scrambling skills.
The defense could use a total overhaul. The linemen struggled to generate consistent pressure, the linebackers are subpar and the secondary is a concern except for Pro Bowl cornerback Asante Samuel.
The Eagles had the worst red zone defense in the NFL, and allowed their third-highest point total (377) since 1974. Despite that, defensive coordinator Sean McDermott's job appears to be safe.
"I appreciate the coaches I have," Reid said. "I would like them all back."
Reid may not get his wish. If offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg gets a job as a head coach, he'll have to be replaced.
"Marty, he's been everything to me," Vick said. "Each and every day, we work hard. He's very stern. He stays on top of me and makes sure I'm doing everything that I need to do to progress as a quarterback. I know in this league guys get opportunities and he's one of the ones who will have an opportunity at a head coaching position I think, and very deserving."