Peyton Manning beats you with his head and Michael Vick beats you with his heart. That is the accepted shorthand in the National Football League. It is overly simplistic, more caricature than realism. It does a disservice to both players but it does not matter. The image rules above all else, and there you have it.
Close your eyes and think about Manning. What your mind’s eye captures is all of the presnap histrionics for which he has become famous – not a throw, not a celebration, not a Super Bowl trophy raised high, but this incessant arm-waving and pointing and barking and rearranging that has become the American standard for the cerebral quarterback.
Now, close your eyes and think about Vick. You might picture one of those effortless, 50-yard flicks down the field, but probably not. Instead, you see him running. You see him eviscerating another defense, propelling himself into the very middle of the thing and then just ripping out its guts – refusing to slide, or to play it safe, or to do anything that suggests even a hint of settling.
There was plenty of all of that on display yesterday; Manning gesticulated and Vick steamrolled in the Eagles’ 26-24 victory. But in the end, what we found out was that Manning is not so good that he can surmount a slew of injuries on his team and a foe determined to mix up its tendencies. And what we found out was that Vick’s physical dynamism is now combined with both a more-complete understanding of what he is seeing on the field and a growing sense that he has found himself in the middle of some audacious possibilities.