- The Washington Times - Monday, September 26, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION

Battered and bruised by the New York Giants, after the Atlanta Falcons administered similar rough treatment a week earlier, Michael Vick opened himself to shots from the media and fans, who gladly piled on. And the pressure he’s been under through three games is nothing compared to the blitz he faced after his postgame comments Sunday.

Michael Vick whines that NY Giants pass rushers, opponents hit him late but refs won’t protect him,” read a headline in the New York Daily News. ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer was adamant Sunday night, saying that Vick isn’t treated differently by officials except in his head. Fox Sports columnist and former NFL Vice President of Officiating Mike Pereira wrote: “Doesn’t get the flags like everybody else? That’s bull.”

Vick also received little empathy and less sympathy from NFL fans outside of Philadelphia, some of whom — surprise, surprise — referenced his past involvement with dogfighting and said he deserves whatever he gets on the field.

Whether we’re talking about ex-con QBs, running QBs or astute QBs, Vick is a proven commodity in stirring controversy. His infamy and playmaking ability have made him one of the NFL’s biggest and most-scrutinized stars. His words travel further and carry more weight than most players. Combinations of those factors, plus several different realities within his comments, are contributing to the current firestorm.

Vick sparked it with his response to the first question after he suffered a hand injury in the Eagles’ 29-16 loss against the Giants. “It was on the pass to Jeremy [Maclin],” he said, asked about the injury. “Just an unfortunate situation, after such a great play, and I felt like I got hit late. There was no flag. Broke my hand.”

Expounding after the second question, Vick said not drawing late-hit penalties has “pretty much been the story for the last three weeks. I mean obviously at some point something catastrophic is going to happen and I broke my hand.” So does he feel that he doesn’t get calls that other QBs do? “Absolutely.”

That’s more observation than complaint and it should be controversial only to league officials, who fret over widely-held perceptions of preferential treatment.

In theory or actuality, refs protect Tom Brady and Peyton Manning better than Luke McCown and Matt Cassel. LeBron James draws fouls that few others receive. Albert Pujols and Roy Halladay enjoy strike zones that aren’t as favorable for lesser players. Hits on a Sidney Crosby are judged harsher than hits on a fourth-line center.

Considering how much the top stars mean to their teams and leagues, special treatment makes perfect sense. Consequently, given his appeal among TV viewers, ticket buyers and merchandise purchasers, Vick has every right to expect top-level care.

The Colts aren’t as exciting without Manning, the Patriots aren’t as interesting without Brady, and the same is true of the Vick-less Eagles. Though leagues will never admit it, preserving star players makes good business sense and is much more important than preserving fringe players.

But Vick confused the issue later in his news conference by intertwining late hits and penalties with legal hits and injuries.

On the play in question, the Giants‘ Chris Canty delivered a hard, high blow as Vick threw. A penalty might have been warranted for helmet-to-helmet contact, but not for being late.

Either way, it’s subjective, and a flag wouldn’t have prevented the injury or improved Philly’s porous pass protection.

“Every time I throw the ball I’m on the ground, getting hit in the head and I don’t know why,” he said. “I don’t get the 15-yard flags like everybody else but hey - I’m not going to complain about it. I’m just making everybody aware and hopefully somebody will take notice.”

That’s where frustration got the best of him. He’s on the ground a lot because he takes a lot of hits, and surely the vast majority are neither late nor to his head. Those are just the ones that stick out in his mind.

Vick does suffer a bit from his unique scrambling skills, which can lead officials to view him - even if just subconsciously - as a halfback as much as a quarterback when he’s in the open field. But it wouldn’t be surprising if that same view seeped into their mind when he’s in the pocket, too. If they consider him as more dangerous than other passers because of his ability to escape, they might - again, subliminally - give defenders more leeway in getting him down.

He’s not the only QB who believes that defenses get away with late hits. But he is among those who deserve consideration along the lines of Brady and Manning, as opposed to McCown and Cassel.

It seems clear that Vick doesn’t receive such treatment, though it probably wouldn’t keep him healthy, anyway.