"We want Vick! We want Vick!''
Michael Vick, 45 minutes after one of the most memorable games of his star-crossed NFL career, was still so emotional about it that I could almost feel his goosebumps over the phone. The day started with him being booed by the Georgia Dome crowd, but when Andy Reid called a couple of plays catering to Vick's strengths -- and they worked -- the crowd switched. It was a Vick lovefest.
"We want Vick! We want Vick!'' came the chant from every corner of the Dome.
"Awesome, awesome,'' Vick said over the phone from Atlanta. "I had chills down my spine. I will never, ever forget this day. To have them say they want me to be a part of their team, their city ... I just appreciate it so much. I appreciate everything about today. This will always be my hometown-away-from-home ...''
In the 34-7 win over the Falcons (to be fair, playing without Matt Ryan, who got standing ovations of his own in this same Dome last year as Vick's heir), Vick finally got to throw the ball downfield. People credit Vick for his athleticism, and justifiably, but I say he's got one of the three best arms in football, and two years in federal custody didn't rob him of that.
In the Eagles' first 11 games, Vick had touched the ball 18 times and generated 74 unspectacular yards. But in the third quarter Sunday, on third-and-one from the Falcons' five, he wriggled through the line for a five-yard touchdown. And after the chant got loud early in the fourth quarter, Reid put him back in the game and Vick threw a bomb up the left seam. It was so perfectly thrown, bisecting double-coverage, that Reggie Brown got interfered with and still caught the 43-yard throw.
"We've had that play in the playbook all season, but we haven't called it,'' said Vick. "In practice, I overthrow it every week, but this time, the safety bit on it and he [Brown] went up and got it. Thrilling.''
I told Vick the FOX cameras caught him talking to Arthur Blank before the game, and I wondered what they said. "Family stuff,'' he said. "It was good. We're going to have dinner in the offseason.''
Uh, what's going to be unleashed in January? Some firings?
It sure sounded good last week when, after an overtime loss at Baltimore dropped the Steelers to 6-5, Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin stepped to the postgame microphone and said: "We will not go gently. We will unleash hell in December.''
Hell Month began for sure at Heinz Field, but not quite the way Tomlin intended. The Steelers allowed a 3-8 team with nothing to play for to go on three long touchdown drives in the last quarter and win a game that put the Steelers in playoff jeopardy. Pittsburgh (6-6) now may have to sweep its final four games (at Cleveland on Thursday night, Green Bay, Baltimore, at Miami) to make the playoffs.
Pittsburgh's shortcomings include: The secondary depth is un-Steeler-like and porous; when William Gay went out in the fourth quarter and rookie Joe Burnett had to play his first extended time at corner, Burnett dropped an interception on the final Raiders drive that would have ended the game. Secondly, Troy Polamalu's absence with a knee injury is killing defensive playmaking. There's no one to take up the slack in the back end. Thirdly, the offense's finishing ability is awful. In Pittsburgh's four-game losing streak, the offense has scored 77 points, with an emphasis on shaky play in the red zone. On the Steelers' first three red zone forays Sunday, they went field goal, interception and a failed fourth-down conversion.
This is the first crisis in Tomlin's three precocious seasons running the Steelers. Starting this morning, everyone will be looking to him to set the tone to save the season. He'd better have something good up his sleeve.
Can't anyone here rush the passer?
In the past two NFL drafts, teams have used 20 picks in the first two rounds trying to find, at least in part, players to bring the heat on the quarterback. Early results -- which can be dangerous because of the adjustment from college to the pros -- say the crop has been an immense failure. Only one of the 21 defensive ends/outside linebackers picked is averaging more than half a sack per game. That's Brian Orakpo, the rookie outside linebacker for the Redskins, who has seven sacks in his first 11 games.
I remember seeing Orakpo at the Scouting Combine last February and thinking he had the body of a fifth-year NFL player. That's one reason Washington had Orakpo rated a top-10 player and chose him over a much-needed offensive tackle on draft day. "He's succeeded because of the two things NFL pass-rushers have to have -- speed and explosiveness,'' said Washington VP of football operations Vinny Cerrato. "There's not many in college. He came into the NFL understanding the speed of the game. At this level, a lot of time your success or failure as a rusher depends on whether the guy has a second move, and he does.''
The pass-rushing dunce cap is reserved for Vernon Gholston. (His play reminds me of Dean Wormer in Animal House. When the good dean was reading the grade-point averages for the fine students in the Delta House, he got to John Belushi. "Mr. Blutarsky: Zero point zero!'') Gholston, drafted to be an edge rusher, made little impact under Eric Mangini, and that has continued under Rex Ryan. Gholston's line: 25 games, 0.0 sacks. For $21 million guaranteed. Yikes. San Francisco's Kentwan Balmer also is sackless, but he was drafted to be a two-way defensive end, and at 315 pounds, he's clearly not the classic rush end.
The other honorary dunce caps go collectively to Jacksonville's Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves, drafted 1-2 last year to solve the Jags' anemic rush. Harvey got a sack Sunday of Matt Schaub, but that's it this year. Through 12 games, Harvey and Groves have a grand total of that one sack.
The 20 young draftees, and how they've fared in Sackville:
NFL Truth & Rumors