Without Vick, Falcons turn to JohnsonPosted: Sunday August 17, 2003 7:11 PM
Updated: Sunday August 17, 2003 7:11 PM
Last year, the Philadelphia Eagles won five of their final six regular-season games after quarterback Donovan McNabb went down with a similar injury. McNabb returned for the playoffs and led Philadelphia to the NFC Championship game.
Can the Falcons match that success?
"We still have a lot of talent left, and a lot of people the last couple of years have been saying this team is all Mike Vick," Atlanta defensive end Patrick Kerney said. "Now is the chance for us to prove them wrong."
The Eagles actually lost two quarterbacks last season. Backup Koy Detmer started a 38-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers, but dislocated his left elbow in the third quarter. He didn't play the rest of the season.
Third stringer A.J. Feeley led Philadelphia to a 4-1 record down the stretch.
In Atlanta, backup Doug Johnson, who's started only three games in his career, takes over for Vick.
"We have a second-team quarterback who could probably start for every team in this league," Falcons linebacker Keith Brooking said. "This is the ultimate team sport and you find out what you're about when faced with adversity."
Vick was injured Saturday night during Atlanta's 13-10 preseason loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Late in the first quarter, he was chased out of the pocket on a third-down play and was tackled by Adalius Thomas. Vick fell awkwardly on his right leg, and grabbed it even before he fell all the way to the ground.
After he was examined by the Falcons' medical staff, Vick got up with some help and limped a few steps to a cart. The crowd gave him a standing ovation as he was driven to the locker room.
"He usually pops right back up," Johnson said. "Every time he gets hit, he'll kind of roll around and figure it out and get back up.
"When I saw him not get up, I knew he was hurt bad."
If Vick's out six weeks, he'll miss the first four games of the regular season and return Oct. 5 against Minnesota. He fractured the fibula on the outside of his right leg, down near his ankle. A cast was placed on the leg Saturday night.
"The break is very clean. It's not displaced at all," said Dr. Andrew Bishop, the team's orthopedist. "Typically, it takes six weeks for a bone to heal. ... We don't know. It could be eight or 10."
If the bones stay aligned, Vick won't have surgery.
"There is no question about it, it's tough to lose a guy that talented and such a big part of the plans for this year," Atlanta coach Dan Reeves said. "But it has always been and always will be how good are you as a football team."
The Falcons made the playoffs last season, Vick's first as a full-time starter, and acquired wide receiver Peerless Price in the offseason to bolster the offense. A longtime laughingstock of the NFL, a team without back-to-back winning seasons in franchise history, Atlanta was mentioned as a possible Super Bowl contender.
The hype surrounding Vick helped the Falcons sell all of its season tickets for the first time since 1981. None of Vick's teammates are ready to give up on the season despite his injury.
"Everybody's going to step up to the challenge," offensive tackle Bob Whitfield said. "We've got confidence in everything. We never have a lack of confidence."
Much of that stems from Johnson's lone start last season, a 17-10 victory over the New York Giants. In that game, he completed 19 of 25 passes for 257 yards, threw for one touchdown and ran for another.
He doesn't have much game experience, but he has experience in the offensive system. The Falcons signed Johnson as an undrafted free agent in 2000.
"You have to realize that I have more experience than all three quarterbacks on this team," he said. "I understand what coach Reeves is trying to do with each play and what this offense means. I try to think like him and do what he would do if he was the quarterback."
Vick probably will miss games against Dallas, Washington, Tampa Bay and Carolina.
"It's going to let some steam out of their engine," said New Orleans quarterback Aaron Brooks, Vick's cousin. "They've got to be strong as a team. They have to rally behind their backup. If they can't do that, it's going to be a very tough season for them."