Vick's concussion dooms Eagles as Falcons rally to avoid 0-2 hole
The Eagles led through three quarters, but faded after Michael Vick's concussion
The win puts the Falcons at 1-1 and gives their once-troubled season new life
Without Vick, the Eagles' future is in question and their offense will have to adapt
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ATLANTA -- This can't possibly be how Michael Vick imagined it. His celebrated return to Atlanta as the starting quarterback/savior of the Philadelphia Eagles was supposed to serve as his ultimate full-circle moment, when his career's past and future intersected and he got the perfect opportunity to put his supreme skills on display, this time on the biggest, most vindicating of stages. He was back in Atlanta's Georgia Dome, and playing in prime time, before the very fans who have witnessed some of his most spectacular work.
Things started well enough, but then everything went very, very wrong. Vick was his breathtaking self at times, but he was sloppy with the ball at others, and he wound up committing three turnovers in about a five-minute span before being knocked out of the game with a concussion late in the third quarter. Oh, and did we mention that Philadelphia let a 10-point fourth-quarter lead evaporate, losing 35-31 to an inspired Falcons team that scored the game's final two touchdowns and avoided a hope-deflating 0-2 start?
So now what do we make of the 1-1 Dream Team? With Vick, they play fast-break football, with enough speed and playmaking ability to make your head spin. Without him, and we don't know yet how much time he'll miss, if any, the Eagles will have to reinvent themselves to a certain degree. No one gives a defense more to worry about than Vick, and if he's replaced by Mike Kafka or Vince Young for any length of time, the Eagles will remain potent on offense. But they'll be different, because, well, there's only one Michael Vick.
This was all too predictable, of course, Vick leaving a game due to injury. It was bound to happen, and did, before he even had two full games under his belt this season. His style of wide-open play obviously lends itself to plenty of contact, but the Eagles offensive line has also done him no favors this season. Even in the preseason, Vick took a pounding, and that trend continued once the games started counting, despite the hits not always showing up on the stat sheet in the form of sacks.
Ironically, Vick was hurt Sunday night when he banged his helmet into the upper torso of Eagles right offensive tackle Todd Herremans, one of his paid protectors. Atlanta safety William Moore had blitzed him on the third-and-8 play from the Falcons 18, and as Moore was trying to wrap Vick up, the Eagles quarterback spun away to his right and slammed into Herremans. Vick got the pass away and completed it for a first down, but TV cameras showed a wobbly-looking Vick on the Eagles sideline, and he was captured spitting out blood after reportedly biting his tongue on the play. He left the game with about three minutes remaining in the third quarter.
"I don't think he seen me coming," said Moore, in a relieved Falcons locker room. "He got the ball off and I just ran into him, and I don't know, he didn't get up too fast. I really didn't think it was that bad of a hit. I knew it had to be something that happened with his twist or something."
Vick soon thereafter headed to the Eagles locker room for some medical observation, but he had his wits about him enough to greet the boos he got from Falcons fans with a smirk and a quick point to the scoreboard, which read Philadelphia 31, Atlanta 21. But it wouldn't last, even though Kafka played extremely well in the first regular-season action of his two-year NFL career, completing 7 of his 9 passes for 72 yards, with a glaring, driving-killing drop by receiver Jeremy Maclin, and a final-play Hail Mary attempt. (Young missed his second game in a row with a hamstring issue.)
Vick certainly had flashes of brilliance against Atlanta, completing 19 of 28 passes for 242 yards in less than three quarters of work, with two touchdown passes (Maclin caught both, from 5 and 36 yards, and had an eye-opening 13 catches for 171 yards) and one interception. But he also lost two fumbles, one of which was a killer that served to change the game's momentum late in the first half, when Philly appeared on the verge of going up 17-7 and perhaps pulling away from the Falcons.
Atlanta used that takeaway to spark a touchdown drive, and build a 14-10 lead at the break. At the start of the third, Vick got careless again on the first snap, throwing an interception to Falcons nickelback Kelvin Hayden. Again, this time on a short field, Atlanta took the gift and converted it into seven points, taking a 21-10 lead on a 17-yard Tony Gonzalez touchdown catch just 3:04 into the third quarter.
"Did you see how fast the game turns around?" Moore said. "We were down by 10, but we knew we had to get back out there and keep fighting. We knew the type of team we were dealing with. They're one of the most explosive teams and can score at any second. Man, them guys don't stay still. Even their tight end got wiggles, man.''
Even after his miscues gave the Falcons new life, Vick made amends for his turnovers, and the Eagles scored three touchdowns on their next four drives, taking that 31-21 lead just three plays after he left the game. Philly looked to be in good shape to hang on and improve to 2-0 with a pair of road wins to start its season, but playing even one quarter without Vick proved to be too difficult for the Eagles. The hope is that Sunday's fourth quarter is not a preview of things to come this year in Philadelphia.
"He's OK right now," Eagles head coach Andy Reid said of Vick, who was not made available to the media in the postgame. "But he has a concussion. [Eagles trainer Rick Burkholder] and the doctors will take care of it from there. He did well. It's too bad that it happened."
All in all, it was a rollercoaster type of night for both Vick and the Eagles, with all the lead changes, momentum swings and twists of football fortune. The Falcons just refused to go away, and Vick clearly was caught up in the homecoming drama to some degree, making mistakes in part because he seemed to be trying too hard to produce the big play and give the crowd the "wow" factor that Vick once displayed as Atlanta's franchise quarterback. Though he wouldn't admit it, you know Vick wanted to put on a show for his former city, and remind everyone here that he's once again among the league's preeminent playmakers.
"He's one of the most dynamic players in the NFL, and coming up as a kid I always dreamed of coming in and playing Mike Vick," Moore said. "He's a competitor, and that's what competitors do. I don't think it was a payback thing or anything like that. It was more of just coming in and showing he's still the same Mike Vick. And you know these fans have so much love for him, and still support him, so he wanted to come in here and give them a good game and that's what he did."
What Vick did was help give the Falcons the game, then help snatch it back for Philly, at least until he had to exit the proceedings for the night with a concussion that now stands a chance of being a season-long storyline and a concern for the Eagles. But that has always been part of Vick's one-of-a-kind game. He can giveth, and he can taketh away, sometimes in the same outing with maddening regularity. That much Falcons fans had to remember, and find somewhat familiar.
To some degree, Vick's night overshadowed an impressive Falcons victory that was very much needed, and nicely exhibited the resiliency of both head coach Mike Smith's team and Atlanta fourth-year quarterback Matt Ryan. Like Vick, Ryan took more than his fair share of hits in the game, but he and the Falcons kept getting up and coming back. Ryan's night wasn't always pretty, but his four touchdown passes were a career high, and he gutted out a 17-of-28 showing, with 195 yards, four sacks and two interceptions, executing Atlanta's no-huddle offense superbly in the fourth quarter.
Ryan had plenty of help from tight end Tony Gonzalez, whose team-high seven catches for 93 yards included two scoring grabs, and running back Michael Turner, who rumbled for 114 yards and one touchdown on 21 carries, including the 61-yard burst that set up Atlanta's game-winning fourth-quarter scoring drive. The Falcons were far from crisp, but when they needed their offensive leaders, Ryan, Gonzalez and Turner stepped up and delivered.
"I thought our quarterback really showed his toughness," Falcons head coach Mike Smith said. "I don't know if there's a tougher guy than Matt Ryan. He took a number of shots and kept going. When you have guys like that, you have a chance to be successful. He's a tough Irishman. I've said that before. He gets hit and he takes that hit and he keeps going."
Ryan and the Falcons kept going, and now they're right there in the thick of the NFC contenders with the Eagles, who are 1-1 and heading north to face the Giants in Philadelphia's home opener next Sunday. Vick's health is now an open question, but only time will serve to answer it. On a night when the Falcons' past and present collided here at a sold-out Georgia Dome, it was the home team that found a way to get it done.
"We did an excellent job and the most important thing is we got the win," Moore said. "It was one of those things where we didn't focus on the hype of Mike coming back today. We knew the kind of player we were facing and we knew what kind of team we were facing overall. They can throw the ball or run it, and I'm very proud of our football team for going out and withstanding all that, for just going out and playing football. We got down, we came back, and we fought. I think down the road that's going to come back to help us quite a bit. This game will make us better."