Michael Vick #1 of the New York Jets waves to...

Michael Vick #1 of the New York Jets waves to the fans as he walks off the field after defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Nov. 9, 2014 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Why wait for the inevitable talk radio / social media / water cooler debate to begin? Let's just go right to the man himself to ask the question of the week:

So, Michael Vick, might the Jets have a winning record had you been the starting quarterback all or most of 2014?

"Yeah, I mean, to sit here and say 'no' would show a lack of confidence in myself and my teammates," Vick said Sunday after leading the Jets to a 20-13 upset of the Steelers, their first victory in more than two months. "Absolutely, I think if I were starting from Day One, maybe it would have been an opportunity, but that wasn't the case. I wasn't put in that situation."

This was after he passed for a modest but efficient 132 yards and two touchdowns -- one a 67-yard laser to T.J. Graham -- and ran for 39 yards, including an 18-yarder that featured a vintage, ankle-breaking move on cornerback Brice McCain.

("For some reason, he bit," Vick said. "They're still biting on the old dead-leg fakes.")

Along the way, he also took a beating, getting hit on occasion after plays when the Jets thought he deserved better from the officials.

"I know I put myself in harm's way and that's the way I play," Vick said, "but I try to protect myself, as well, and sometimes I need the refs to protect me, too."

Most importantly: He has zero turnovers in two starts.

All good. But about those eight games he did not start . . . Vick sensed where reporters were heading and tried to answer honestly while walking a fine good-teammate line, but he ended up in a verbal pretzel.

Here goes: "Please don't get misconstrued, please don't go out and say Mike Vick felt like if he was the starter that we would be winning, because that's not what I'm saying right now. I'm saying in front of all these cameras that given the opportunity, yeah, I believe our team would have maybe won some games."

Forgive him, because this is a complicated situation.

Vick insisted that he understood his role and that he supported giving Geno Smith every opportunity to prove himself. He even noted that Smith did not have the benefit of a weapon such as Percy Harvin.

He said had he pushed harder to be No. 1 in the summer, he would have been a "distraction."

"I knew what I was here for; I played in the league 13 years and I wanted to see a young guy with a lot of potential become the best football player he could be, because I lived those moments," he said.

Here's the problem: There was nothing wrong philosophically with the Jets finding out for sure whether they had something in Smith, but they should have been more honest about the plan going in.

Vick never was given a real chance to compete in the summer, which he accepted even if the Jets never quite admitted it. And that, in turn, means the Jets were not trying to put their best possible team on the field.

So here we are, with a 34-year-old who clearly is better than a 24-year-old and might be forever, leaving the Jets with an obvious choice for whom to start in Buffalo on Nov. 23 and no obvious choice for whom to start in 2015.

Does Rex Ryan regret not starting Vick sooner? "I never look back," he said. When pressed, he said, seemingly sarcastically, "Yeah, I should have."

Then he added: "He played great, but I believe in Geno Smith as well. That's the truth."

Jets fans could have handled the truth during the summer if they had been given it, accepting that an aging Vick might be good for a few extra wins, but not at the expense of never knowing if Smith might be a keeper.

That's not what they were told, though, and it turns out the Jets' investment in time, money and attention did not pay off in what became a lost season with no clear path to better times ahead.

"That's in the past," Vick said of the competition that wasn't. "There's nothing we can do about that."

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