Falcons' Vick shoots for the star: Packers' Favre

Best QB will win, he says, but road test daunting

Nfl Playoffs

January 04, 2003|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

The Michael Vick phenomenon peaked in Week 13, when he beat the Minnesota Vikings in overtime with a marvelous 46-yard touchdown scamper that came straight from the sandlot. Vick and the Atlanta Falcons were all the rage.

It was in the same game, however - when Vick completed only 11 of 28 passes - that reality also began to set in. It was the beginning of a trend that the second-year quarterback and the Falcons have yet to correct.

Tonight, Vick will try to revive the Falcons' magic against the Green Bay Packers in an NFC wild-card game at frosty Lambeau Field. All he has to do, he reasons, is outplay Packers quarterback Brett Favre.

"That is usually the case with any quarterback," Vick said. "If your quarterback has a better day and your team has a better day, then your team usually wins. That is what we are looking forward to."

If Vick outplays Favre in his first playoff game and the Falcons win, it would be one for the history books. It would be the Packers' first playoff loss at Lambeau (after 11 wins). It would be a sixth seed over a third seed. It would be an introductory chapter to the Vick legend.

There is some history there already. On Sept. 8, Vick pressed the Packers into overtime before dropping a 37-34 thriller. And if that weren't encouragement enough, the Falcons are the last team to beat the Packers in Green Bay. With Chris Chandler at quarterback and Vick looking on as a rookie, Atlanta beat the Packers, 23-20, on Nov. 18, 2001.

The Packers have won 12 straight at home, including the postseason, since the loss.

If lightning strikes Lambeau again, it would be because Vick regained his passing touch and his improvisational genius. The numbers in the last month of the regular season show a sharp decline for the first pick in the 2001 draft.

In his first 10 starts (he missed one game to an injury), Vick completed 59.5 percent of his passes for nine touchdowns and two interceptions. In his last five starts, he completed 47.9 percent for seven TDs and six interceptions.

Not surprisingly, the Falcons (9-6-1) go into the postseason on a 1-3 tailspin. The Packers (12-4) have won four of five.

Vick, 22, doesn't agree there's been a falloff in his play.

"I think I'm playing just as good as I was," he said. "I realize my completion percentage has been down a little bit, and it's because I'm trying to get the other guys involved. And I don't make excuses, but I hurt my thumb and so that kind of set me back a little bit, but I am getting myself back to where I was in the beginning of the year."

The Packers were stunned by Vick's speed in the season opener. They likely will rush him from the outside tonight and try to force him to step up in the pocket. Letting him get outside with his quickness is an invitation to a long run.

Atlanta coach Dan Reeves said he looks at the bottom line, not statistics. And that tells him that Vick will create opportunities for the Falcons to exploit.

"His ability to give us a chance to win has been incredible," Reeves said. "Even in the games we've lost. If you look at ... how many games we lost as close games, what we need to do is to learn how to win those close games."

Vick ranked second this season in the NFC in third-down passing, seventh in overall passer efficiency and eighth in fourth-quarter passing. He gained 777 yards rushing, averaging 6.9 a carry. He has wowed even a veteran like Favre, 33, a three-time Most Valuable Player.

"He can do things that obviously no one can do, at least hasn't been able to do," Favre said. "If they can keep him healthy, the sky's the limit for the kid. I mean, he's a wonderful player, he's exciting to watch, but, no, I can't do anything he can do."

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