On Sunday Night Football in Week 2, Philadelphia Eagles QB Michael Vick returns to the Georgia Dome for the first time as a starter. Vick will be squaring off with a familiar foe, the Atlanta Falcons, who just happen to be the first team that give him his first $100 Million Dollar contract before his miraculous fall fall from grace in the ATL and redemption with the Birds.
The Michael Vick Story is clearly one that has an ending yet to be written. However, on Sunday Night Football in week two, the story, at least for one evening, comes full circle. Vick brings the Philadelphia Eagles (1-0) into a highly anticipated early season matchup with the team that finished 2010 with the best record in the NFC, the Atlanta Falcons (0-1).
The former 2001 No. 1 overall pick’s return to Atlanta is the key storyline here. Like few athletes across the country, Vick remains an icon in Atlanta, even after last taking a snap for the Falcons in December 2006. There are sure to be thousands of black and red number seven jerseys in the building to watch one of the most exciting players in the league.
“The emotional aspect of it is over for me,” Vick said. “I’m just excited to get back to the dome and see some of the guys that I’ve played with. I hope it’s a nice reception but either way it will be fun.”
That emotion will be a key for Vick and the Eagles. Vick has said all of the right things throughout the week about this being simply a business trip for him and his teammates, but saying that in the confines of a locker room and actually tempering your enthusiasm and not pressing to impress your former fans and organization is quite another. Two years ago when the Eagles had a big lead over the Falcons in the fourth quarter, Head Coach Andy Reid put Vick in to relieve Donovan McNabb which electrified the fans — scored a running touchdown in the game’s quarter. How Vick responds to that type of reception early in the game will set the tone.
Philadelphia native and Penn Charter product, Atlanta starting quarterback Matt Ryan, is excited to square off with Vick, and knows that the comparisons between himself and the former Falcon may never end.
“Those are discussions that always come up,” Ryan said. “Mike is a special and unique talent, but he’s moved on and so have we. I got to know him a little bit at the Pro Bowl and I admire him both as a player and as a person.”
Atlanta undoubtedly will be hungry to come out fast on Sunday night following last week’s disastrous 30-12 loss in Chicago. In a division that features the stalwart Saints, along with the up and coming Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Head coach Mike Smith’s gang can ill afford to stumble out of the gate to an 0-2 start.
The Falcons are a much different team at home than they are at home. Ryan is an astounding 20-3 at the Georgia Dome.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia is coming off an impressive 31-13 road win over the Rams in the season opener. Philadelphia finished strong against St. Louis, especially in the run game that wore down St. Louis’s Front 7 thanks in large part to heavy doses of Ronnie Brown early, and LeSean McCoy late. McCoy finished with 122 yards, a touchdown and added an early touchdown reception as well. Defensively, the Eagles pass rush was in mid season form, sacking Sam Bradford five times.
The Eagles lethal speed on offense could be enough to propel them past the Falcons and to an undefeated start. Michael Vick’s athleticism is no secret, neither is the breakaway speed of LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. This team is clearly built to win on the fast track of a dome.
However, the one way to neutralize that speed is to get to Vick and knock him down. The Eagles quarterback was hit 14 times in Week 1, more than any other quarterback in the NFL. The onus to keep No. 7 upright falls on an offensive line that is by and large starting its second game together as a unit. They’ll have their work cut out for them against one of the most dominant pass rushers in football, John Abraham.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Eagles will have their work cut out for them. Ryan is one of the true elite quarterbacks in the league, finishing 2010 with 3,705 yards and 28 touchdowns with 9 interceptions. At running back, Michael Turner is a bowling ball of a back who rushed for 100 yards on ten carries against the Bears on a sloppy track. Then there’s the dynamic duo of Roddy White and upstart rookie Julio Jones at receiver.
Undoubtedly, Smith will attempt to pound the ball with Turner early in an attempt to gash the highly susceptible Eagles linebackers. Smith saw Steven Jackson’s 47-yard sprint on his first carry of the game for the Rams last week, as well as all of the unfavorable tape Philadelphia’s linebackers have produced so far. They will need to be stout against the run, because the Falcons are truly a multifaceted offense.
The energy is sure to be charged at The Georgia Dome for Vick’s return. The Eagles have had the right attitude about this matchup all week, but the Falcons are a desperate a team as a team can be in week two. All signs point to this game being a thriller.
Matt’s Pick: True, Atlanta needs this game and they have the weapons in Ryan, Michael Turner, Roddy White and Julio Jones, but that Eagles speed is what will lead them past the Falcons 28-23.
Matt Lombardo is the Philadelphia Eagles beat reporter and host for 97.3 ESPN in Atlantic City, NJ. Matt can be reached on Twitter @MattLombardoPHL or by Email at MDLombardo@yahoo.com