Catch Him If You Can After making history in Green Bay, Atlanta's Michael Vick goes full speed into Philadelphia

January 13, 2003

FALCONS 27 PACKERS 7

An hour after the biggest win of his life, Michael Vick stood
outside Lambeau Field late last Saturday night, dressed only in a
blue suit and matching blue shirt. Snow swirled around his head,
and some flakes nested in his closely cropped hair as he soaked
in the Atlanta Falcons' historic 27-7 victory over the Green Bay
Packers.

He didn't look cold. Just cool. "This game defines why the
Falcons drafted me," the 22year-old quarterback said happily. "I
can't help it. I'm just so proud of myself."

Vick had plenty of help from his friends in handing Green Bay its
first home playoff loss in the 82-year history of the franchise.
Running back Warrick Dunn had 104 rushing and receiving yards
combined, and backup T.J. Duckett broke loose several times,
including a six-yard touchdown run up the middle. The offense
controlled the clock for 36 minutes and did not commit a
turnover. The defense forced five turnovers, including three by
Brett Favre, who threw his second interception of the day and
fumbled once while desperately trying to rally the Packers from a
24-0 halftime deficit. Linebacker Mark Simoneau blocked a punt
deep in Green Bay territory, and linebacker Artie Ulmer recovered
the ball and rolled one yard for a touchdown.

Vick's numbers weren't spectacular: 13-of-25 passing for 117
yards and one touchdown, plus 10 rushes for 64 yards. But this
game was not about stats, it was about Vick's commanding
presence. He did what he wanted when he wanted, most
spectacularly late in the first half, on a third-and-three play
at the Packers' 39. Vick rolled to the left and was about to be
sacked for a huge loss, but he escaped the clutches of Kabeer
Gbaja-Biamila near the sideline, reversed field and left four
more Green Bay players in his wake for an 11-yard gain.

Thereafter, whenever the Packers showed signs of life, Vick
responded. For example, with the crowd roused after Green Bay had
cut the lead to 24-7 midway through the third quarter, Vick took
the snap on third-and-three at the Atlanta 40, patiently looked
for a receiver, then saw a seam up the middle and took off.
Strong safety Marques Anderson appeared to be in position to stop
Vick short of a first down, but the quarterback shifted into
another gear and ran for 22 yards. Eight plays later Jay Feeley
closed out the scoring by kicking a 23-yard field goal, and the
Falcons were headed for this Saturday's NFC divisional playoff
game against the Eagles in Philadelphia.

At midfield after the game Favre told Vick, "I'm proud of you.
You're going to be a superstar in this league."

He already is. This game was a testament to how quickly a
quarterback can turn around a team, an impact the Falcons were
sure Vick would have when they began exploring a trade for the
first pick in the 2001 draft. It was a desperate time in Atlanta:
The Falcons had gone 5-11 and 4-12 after their 1998 Super Bowl
season, which was looking more and more like a fluke;
season-ticket sales had dropped to 29,000; and the team was on
the block. Atlanta held the fifth pick, and as team scouts
prepared for the draft, they became increasingly excited about
the 20year-old Vick, a run-first quarterback who'd played only
two seasons at Virginia Tech. But was that excitement justified?
Vick may have been an electric player, with 4.3 speed in the 40
and a cannon for a left arm, but skeptics wondered how he'd
handle the transition to the NFL. After all, they pointed out, he
had thrown the ball only 313 times in college, while running with
it 212 times.

The Falcons' supervisor of college scouting, Mike Hagen, wondered
too--until he saw Vick's individual workout for NFL teams a
couple of weeks before the draft. Vick threw for about an hour,
"and I bet the ball hit the ground three or four times," Hagen
recalled last Saturday. "We'd heard about how he wasn't accurate
enough [Vick was a middling 56.5% passer in college], but he wore
out three receivers that day. All he did was put the ball on the
money."

The San Diego Chargers owned the first pick in the draft but gave
it up in return for Atlanta's first-and third-round selections in
2001, a second-rounder in 2002 and wideout Tim Dwight. "Nobody
had to convince us it was a good deal," cornerback Ray Buchanan
said after last Saturday night's victory. "I thought it was going
to be the turning point for this organization. We'd been in
turmoil since the Super Bowl. I had no idea it would turn around
this fast. But a night like tonight happens only because we were
bold and got a great player like Michael to lead us."

Vick still has to work on his accuracy; his 54.9% completion rate
this year was at least five points shy of where he wanted it to
be. He still has to strike a balance between scrambling and
staying in the pocket. "I never want to be known as just a
running quarterback," he says. "People don't realize this, but to
me, it's more beautiful for a quarterback to take his seven-step
drop and hit a receiver on a 17-yard out route. That's the way
the game should be played, and that's how great quarterbacks
define themselves. There's a part of me that always says, Sit
back and let things happen. Use your arm and brain, not just your
legs."

But Vick excelled in other areas in his first full season as a
starter, such as his flawless handling of the silent snap count
in loud environs like Lambeau Field. "I haven't had a false start
or illegal procedure using the silent count all season," Vick
says. "Last year I had no idea what I was doing with it." Atlanta
used the silent count on about 80% of its snaps against the
Packers and will likely have to rely on it again this weekend at
rowdy Veterans Stadium.

If Donovan McNabb, out since Nov. 17 with a broken right fibula,
returns to the Eagles' lineup as expected, he and Vick--two of
the NFL's best young quarterbacks--will play against each other
for the first time. That would be another big challenge for Vick,
who chose Virginia Tech over Syracuse in 1998. "Nothing against
Donovan," Vick says, "but I didn't want to go to Syracuse and be
in his shadow."

After this season Vick won't be in anybody's shadow anytime soon.

COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER [T of C] LIGHTS OUT The Falcons (in white) handed the Packers' their first playoff loss at Lambeau Field and will face the Eagles on Saturday. COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTY WHATEVER WORKS Vick prefers to beat teams with his arm, but he burned the Packers with timely runs. COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTY GROUNDED Juran Bolden's takedown of Terry Glenn (83) typified the Falcons' control of the not-so-frozen tundra. COLOR PHOTO: DAVID BERGMAN FIVE-STAR Even at less than 100%, McNabb will be dangerous.

DR. Z's FORECAST

Falcons at Eagles

The first thing the Falcons will notice will be that they're
playing on the worst surface in the NFL. If they can put that
aside, they'll be O.K. But every time Michael Vick is chased out
of the pocket, and he will be on many plays against Eagles
defensive coordinator Jim Johnson's exotic blitz package, he'll
have to be on the lookout for seams and bumps and things that
might trip him up. It's not a happy prospect.

Atlanta put up a solid defensive effort against a disheartened
and undermanned Green Bay offense, but I don't think the Falcons
will hold Philadelphia in check if quarterback Donovan McNabb is
halfway functional. The Falcons' best chance will be to work the
clock, and I think they'll come out trying to run counters and
misdirection stuff, as the Giants did so effectively while
running for 213 yards against Philly in the regular-season
finale.

The Falcons have an interesting and often surprising offensive
package. I see them picking up decent yardage on the ground and
staying close. If they can force a couple of turnovers, they've
got a shot.

The Pick: Eagles 24, Falcons 22

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)