Eli Manning, Michael Vick face scrutiny amidst tough season

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- As the football season in the New York metropolitan area has dissolved into irrelevance on the field and uncertainty off of it, the starting quarterbacks for the Jets and Giants faced questions Wednesday about their respective futures.

For Michael Vick, whose Jets are a fruitless 2-8, the questions are obvious. Would the team's record be different had Vick, instead of Geno Smith, started the season? And what does the future hold for Vick, who is 34 and operating on a one-year contract?

For Eli Manning, whose Giants are a miserable 3-7, the questions are about whether he wants to finish his career with the only franchise he has known (he does), if he can lead the Giants to championship-level seasons again (he's optimistic) and regarding the future of the only NFL head coach he has known.

On that last point, Manning was asked about former Giants running back Tiki Barber saying on radio -- his national show and others -- that Tom Coughlin should be fired. (Barber had a rocky relationship with Coughlin during the running back's Giants career and, after he retired, referred to Manning's leadership style as "comical.")

"Yeah, that was very nice of him," Manning said, in unusually pointed comments (for him). "It's good to hear from ol' Tiki."

Asked whether it's tough to hear such comments from a former player, Manning unleashed this fastball, up and in: "Well, I think it depends on what your opinion of the player is. I think that can make a big difference in how you react to it."

Vick and Manning, of course, have followed completely different career paths. But they stand together now in this respect, as losing quarterbacks in New York (and New Jersey), where the scrutiny is already intense in a season that has six long weeks to go.

For Vick, there are more unknowns, including this basic one: Where will he be next season?

"I don't know. I'm just taking it one game at a time," Vick told NFL Media on Wednesday. "It's funny because you get used to being in a certain place, and sometimes you have to leave."

He paused and smiled: "I don't mind the Jets green."

Vick has no doubt he wants to play in 2015.

"I would love to play again, at least get it out of my system for two more years," he said. "Because I know I got it in me."

Vick will start Sunday for the third time as a Jet, at Buffalo, after replacing a turnover-ridden Smith in the team's Week 8 loss to the Bills. Vick, 1-1 as a starter this season, has made an impact: His 67-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Graham against the Steelers in Week 10 is the Jets' longest scoring pass this year. In that home upset of Pittsburgh and in the Jets' Week 9 loss at Kansas City, Vick recorded passer ratings of more than 100. He became only the third quarterback in Jets history to record a 100-plus passer rating in their first two starts, joining Chad Pennington (2002) and Boomer Esiason (1993).

The next question: Would the Jets have more than two wins if Vick had been allowed to win the faux competition with Smith in training camp?

"I always think about what if," Vick said, sitting at his locker. "What if I'd have gotten a chance? What if it was just reversed, what if I got a chance to start the season off and help Geno and show Geno what it takes to play in this league, and how you prepare yourself and everything that goes into it?

"It's just a what-if. I can't answer that question. I can only speak out of confidence in saying that I just feel good that I would have played consistent football."

His teammates will go further.

On his weekly radio spot Tuesday on WFAN, defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson said "nobody knows" when it comes to "what-ifs." He added, "Of course everybody would want to see what would be the outcome if (Vick) did start (the season)."

Offensive lineman Willie Colon told NFL Media: "I think since he's gotten the nod -- he's been a spark for us. (We realize) we can be a good offense, and you see sparks of it. You got guys starting to believe more now, and guys are starting to fight harder."

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Colon said he has to trust that Jets management used the correct judgment in starting the season with Smith, now 9-15 as a starter.

"If Vick's starting Week 3, are we (a better team)? It's easy to say that," Colon said. "But you've got to believe that they believed Geno was our guy. If they're believing it, I've got no choice (but) to believe it. That's how I approached it."

Surely there could be fair debate about Vick as a season-long starter: Would he have physically held up? Could he have limited turnovers? But there is little doubt that the Jets' season was lost, at 1-7, before Vick was given a chance to start.

On Wednesday, Rex Ryan -- whose own future with the Jets is cloudy at best -- said of Vick's strong arm and ability to throw: "I don't know if there's ever been anybody with that kind of skill set that he has." Ryan added that Hall of Famer Steve Young was similar.

Ryan said he was "at the time, comfortable in my decision" to not use Vick as a starter until Week 9, and "I'm not going to spend time looking back. I just focus on the present, and really it doesn't go past this week. It's all about preparing your team for Buffalo."

Of course, it's about more than that now. There is a big-picture feel to this Jets season -- and to the Giants, for that matter -- and that is one of disappointment, failure and futility. But on a cold Wednesday in a lost November, the quarterbacks can still carry the day.

Follow Kimberly Jones on Twitter @KimJonesSports.

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