Keeping Score

Michael Vick: A Victim, A Lout, A Helluva Player

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Michael Vick of the Philadelphia Eagles runs with the ball during a game against the Washington Redskins

Hunter Martin/Getty Images

Just 18 months ago, Michael Vick was in prison. Now he’s setting NFL records.

If Vick wasn’t part of the NFL MVP conversation before his epic outing on Monday Night Football, he sure is now. After missing three games with a rib injury, all he’s done since returning to the field is lead the Philadelphia Eagles past Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts last week; against the division rival Washington Redskins last night, he became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for over 300 yards (he finished with 333), rush for over 50 yards (he had 80), throw four touchdown passes, and rush for two more touchdowns. The Eagles scored 28 points in the first quarter alone, and crushed the Redskins 59-28. In the six games he has played this year, Vick still hasn’t committed a turnover.

On the first play of the game, Vick connected with Philadelphia wide receiver DeSean Jackson — the pair is quickly becoming the most lethal quarterback-receiver combo in the game — on an 88-yard touchdown pass, and the rout was on. Somehow, Vick has emerged as a more poised pocket-passer than he was in his pre-prison days, and has maintained his athleticism despite 18-months of relative inactivity while in jail.

The Eagles are 6-3, and since no other NFL team has emerged as a clear Super Bowl favorite, Vick’s redemption tale could keep gaining momentum. Two years ago, could anyone have imagined that Michael Vick would be the planet’s best football player in 2010? That the NFL may be marketing a convicted felon as the face of the league down the stretch?

More on TIME.com: The top 10 disgraced athletes

Many will wonder if Vick’s on-field exploits will eventually overshadow his off-field foibles. Hopefully, they won’t. Why should Vick’s skill as a football player determine how we judge him as a human? Those who think he got a raw deal for running a dog-fighting ring, or are more inclined to give a troubled guy a second chance, or are impressed with the community service Vick has done in Philadelphia since being released, would be pulling for him even if he struggled. Those who think that Vick’s despicable treatment of dogs is unforgivable won’t give absolve him, just because he’s tossing touchdown passes (OK, a more than a few Eagles fans probably will). Too often, we ascribe the accomplishments, or failures, of athletes onto their character as people. If the Tiger Woods debacle taught us anything, it’s that we should stop that unfortunate habit.

Vick is a victim, Vick is a lout. Both views are personal, and completely legitimate. But for anyone who appreciates football, the view is universal: Michael Vick is an electrifying player, and watching his 2010 season unfold could be truly special.

More on TIME.com: The top 10 sports comebacks

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