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Bet on the NFL  Michael Vick's redemption as an NFL quarterback seems nearing completion as he prepares to face the Texans on Thursday night in what will be his seventh start for the Philadelphia Eagles. His performance on the field has been mesmerizing, particularly in a Monday night wrecking of the Washington Redskins. When betting on football remember that none of the great ones before Vick ever passed for as many as 300 yards and four touchdowns while running for 50 yards or more and two touchdowns, as he did at the overmatched Skins' expense in a 59-28 Philly romp on Nov. 15. Vick led the Eagles to touchdowns on each of their first five possessions. He seemed, in a word, unstoppable, a man playing among boys.

Speaking of which, Vick's redemption as a man figures to take somewhat longer. But most would agree — with caveats, of course — that his efforts to atone for the heinous chapter in his life deserve at least a polite round of applause, if not the rowdy standing ovations his remarkable Eagles exploits have elicited.

Vick can't change his past, which was desperately short on virtue given the cruelties to which he subjected his fighting dogs as owner of the Bad Newz Kennels. He went to prison for nearly two years — the Falcons' No. 7 became Leavenworth inmate No. 33765-183 - and lost two NFL seasons, not to mention millions of dollars.

Dog lovers, huge in number, came to loathe him. Ask People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to comment on Vick's resurrection as a football hero, and you still get this response: As long as he's throwing a football and not electrocuting a dog, PETA is pleased he is focused on his game.

Vick is definitely that, having forsaken the nightly party circuit to become a serious game-film junkie instead. Mom set him right.

He almost did last summer, when a wee-hours altercation at his 30th birthday party got blown into something much more ominous after the man with whom he'd exchanged heated words was later shot. It turned out to be just a terrible coincidence, but the near consequences of the episode finally captured Vick's undivided attention.

Vick didn't win the Eagles' starting job in his second training camp with the team, but when former University of Houston Cougar Kevin Kolb went down, Vick wedged his foot in the door.  A rib injury temporarily delayed what now appears to have been an inevitable ascension, but since Vick returned healthy, he has been remarkably proficient in scrambling — his forte in Atlanta — and launching mighty heaves downfield with laser-like accuracy.

Until he suffered a late interception on a deflection against the Bears, Vick had thrown 13 touchdown passes without being picked off this season. Also, only once in his previous NFL incarnation (2001-06) did he pass for more than the 333 yards he put up against both the Redskins and Bears in three weeks' time.


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