October 6 was not a good day for the Michael Vick legend. The
Bucs roughed up the Falcons' quarterback plenty. "I took a lot of
good shots," Vick recalls. "I hit my head two or three times. I
bit my tongue. They put me on my back." In the third quarter he
left the game with a sprained right shoulder. After the 20-6
loss the Falcons were a bedraggled 1-3 with an injured
signal-caller, and people were saying that the NFL isn't college
ball, where a quarterback can run around like crazy, and that the
Falcons had better teach their youngster to stay in the pocket.

Well, Atlanta hasn't lost since that bleak afternoon. And on
Sunday, Vick, who missed one game with that shoulder injury, ran
for a career-high 173 yards and two touchdowns, including the
game-winning 46-yard dash that beat the Vikings in overtime. And
guess what? People are still saying he'd better stop scrambling
so much.

"You look at the guy," Minnesota middle linebacker Greg Biekert
said, "and you think he's going to wear himself out. But he's in
great shape. I don't know how long that will last--maybe six or
seven years, I don't know."

Now the Bucs are waiting at home for their second go at Vick on
Sunday. Oh, they'll cook up something fancy and try to "spy" him
with someone who can run, probably a defensive back or maybe
linebacker Derrick Brooks. They'll try to punish him, just as
they did the last time, and there will be a measure of
desperation in their efforts because they're supposed to win the
NFC South, and a loss to Atlanta will put them half a game behind
the Falcons for the division lead.

Coming off a loss to New Orleans, Tampa Bay will be in an
especially nasty mood. The Saints beat the Bucs with a
quarterback, Aaron Brooks, who after injuring his throwing arm
just before halftime played late into the game, and a running
back, Deuce McAllister, who was limping noticeably on a sprained
right ankle toward the end. But there was nothing wrong with the
New Orleans pass rush, which wore down Tampa Bay's offensive line
and gave quarterback Brad Johnson a miserable time.

--Atlanta's defense plays with intensity, but it doesn't have the
pocket-crushing monsters the Saints have. Bucs wideout Keyshawn
Johnson had a big day against the Falcons last time, and I think
he will again. Tampa Bay is the pick.

--There are serious division matchups in the AFC, too. Buffalo
needs a win at New England to stay in the East race. Oakland gets
a rematch in San Diego with the West lead on the line, and the
Colts take a one-game edge in the South into their game in
Nashville against the Titans. I'll ride with the Patriots, who
beat the Bills, 38-7, on Nov. 3, and I like the Raiders to
reverse their earlier overtime loss to the Chargers. The Colts
didn't have running back Edgerrin James the last time they faced
the Titans, who won 23-15. Indy has him now, and James will be
the difference. The Colts win it.

--Normally St. Louis going against Kansas City's struggling
defense would be a no-brainer, but what you have to look at
here is which team will be more depressed about its postseason
hopes. I say the Rams will be. The Chiefs get the nod.

--The Redskins, with an extra three days' rest, will beat the
Giants, who are coming off an overtime loss to Tennessee. I'll
give the Broncos the win over the Jets if quarterback Brian
Griese is back. Steve Beuerlein is a sturdy warrior, but New
York's the pick if he's running the show.

--The Jaguars beat the Browns, the Saints win ugly in Baltimore,
the 49ers, prone to shocking lapses in their pass defense, get by
the Cowboys, and the Dolphins beat the Bears in the Monday
nighter in Miami. Upset special: The Seahawks upend the Eagles in
Seattle. --Paul Zimmerman

COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS Falcons running back Warrick Dunn will have an unhappy homecomingagainst his old team.

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