October 6 was not a good day for the Michael Vick legend. The Bucs roughed up the Falcons' quarterback plenty. "I took a lot of good shots," Vick recalls. "I hit my head two or three times. I bit my tongue. They put me on my back." In the third quarter he left the game with a sprained right shoulder. After the 20-6 loss the Falcons were a bedraggled 1-3 with an injured signal-caller, and people were saying that the NFL isn't college ball, where a quarterback can run around like crazy, and that the Falcons had better teach their youngster to stay in the pocket.
Well, Atlanta hasn't lost since that bleak afternoon. And on Sunday, Vick, who missed one game with that shoulder injury, ran for a career-high 173 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winning 46-yard dash that beat the Vikings in overtime. And guess what? People are still saying he'd better stop scrambling so much.
"You look at the guy," Minnesota middle linebacker Greg Biekert said, "and you think he's going to wear himself out. But he's in great shape. I don't know how long that will last—maybe six or seven years, I don't know."
Now the Bucs are waiting at home for their second go at Vick on Sunday. Oh, they'll cook up something fancy and try to "spy" him with someone who can run, probably a defensive back or maybe linebacker Derrick Brooks. They'll try to punish him, just as they did the last time, and there will be a measure of desperation in their efforts because they're supposed to win the NFC South, and a loss to Atlanta will put them half a game behind the Falcons for the division lead.
Coming off a loss to New Orleans, Tampa Bay will be in an especially nasty mood. The Saints beat the Bucs with a quarterback, Aaron Brooks, who after injuring his throwing arm just before halftime played late into the game, and a running back, Deuce McAllister, who was limping noticeably on a sprained right ankle toward the end. But there was nothing wrong with the New Orleans pass rush, which wore down Tampa Bay's offensive line and gave quarterback Brad Johnson a miserable time.
? Atlanta's defense plays with intensity, but it doesn't have the pocket-crushing monsters the Saints have. Bucs wideout Keyshawn Johnson had a big day against the Falcons last time, and I think he will again. Tampa Bay is the pick.
?There are serious division matchups in the AFC, too. Buffalo needs a win at New England to stay in the East race. Oakland gets a rematch in San Diego with the West lead on the line, and the Colts take a one-game edge in the South into their game in Nashville against the Titans. I'll ride with the Patriots, who beat the Bills, 38-7, on Nov. 3, and I like the Raiders to reverse their earlier overtime loss to the Chargers. The Colts didn't have running back Edgerrin James the last time they faced the Titans, who won 23-15. Indy has him now, and James will be the difference. The Colts win it.
?Normally St. Louis going against Kansas City's struggling defense would be a no-brainer, but what you have to look at here is which team will be more depressed about its postseason hopes. I say the Rams will be. The Chiefs get the nod.
?The Redskins, with an extra three days' rest, will beat the Giants, who are coming off an overtime loss to Tennessee. I'll give the Broncos the win over the Jets if quarterback Brian Griese is back. Steve Beuerlein is a sturdy warrior, but New York's the pick if he's running the show.
?The Jaguars beat the Browns, the Saints win ugly in Baltimore, the 49ers, prone to shocking lapses in their pass defense, get by the Cowboys, and the Dolphins beat the Bears in the Monday nighter in Miami. Upset special: The Seahawks upend the Eagles in Seattle.