Vick Knocked Out As Eagles Fall to Falcons by Matt Lombardo

On Sunday Night Football, the Eagles led the Falcons 31-21 entering the 4th quarter.  But without Pro Bowl quarterback Michael Vick  — left with a concussion — and  a defense that had been worn down, Philadelphia was unable to stop the Falcons who came from behind to win a physical game. 

Momentum can be the prevailing factor in all sports, especially professional football. However, momentum can also be fleeting and on Sunday night at the Georgia Dome on a night that saw Michael Vick knocked from the game, the wild swings of emotion and the big “Mo” went a long way towards leading the Falcons past the Eagles.

Michael Vick was wildly inconsistent in his first start against the Falcons, but until a third quarter fluke concussion knocked him from the game, it looked as if the Eagles were on their way to 2-0. In the end though, the Eagles defense was unable to fight off the late charge of Matt Ryan, Michael Turner and the Falcons in a 35-31 loss that dropped the Birds to .500. Continue reading

The Michael Vick Experience returns to the ATL in fine fashion

For the first time since 2006, QB Michael Vick had the Georgia Dome rocking with a strong performance

The Philadelphia Eagles 34-7 shellacking of the Atlanta Falcons became a footnote to bigger story.  No it was not the fact that the Eagles (8-4) are now tied for first place in the NFC East with Dallas Cowboys.  The main storyline that dominated Sunday afternoon’s game was the triumphant return of Eagles backup quarterback Michael Vick to the Georgia Dome.  The trip back to Atlanta had been an emotional one for Vick.  He later admitted to tearing up on the bus ride over to the stadium.  This was the city where he first made his mark in the NFL as the Falcons star billboard player only to fall to tragic lows in 2007 due to his involvement in dogfighting. 

Vick’s fall from grace was swift and when he went to prison for a 23-month period, he not only left behind his family and friends, but also the franchise that stood by him since he first entered the NFL in 2001.  The Falcons owner Arthur Blank had given the keys to the franchise to his pseudo son only to have Vick disappoint him and ultimately causing the team to walk away from their former electrifying player.  While Vick was beginning his prison sentence in late 2007, the Falcons were also a shattered mess.  The 2007 season was one of the worst in Falcons’ history as the team finished with a dismal record of 4-12, their head coach Bobby Petrino quit with only a few games left, and many blamed the duo of Blank and Vick for the overall collapse of the former 2004 NFC Championship contender.  Vick finished his 6-year Falcons’ career with passing numbers of 930-1730, 11505 yards, 71 TDs, 52 INTs, and a 75.7 rating plus a record of 38-28-1 as a starter.

Though the Falcons rebounded in 2008 to make the playoffs under rookie of the year quarterback Matt Ryan, the attention of many in Atlanta still remained with Vick.  The journey of Vick from a jailed dogfighter back to the NFL has been well documented and when the Eagles first signed the former Falcons star in mid-August there was a firestorm of activity on message boards, talk radio, and any other medium associated to fan feedback.  To say the least the Vick signing was polarizing across the country sometimes along racial lines – especially in Atlanta and Philadelphia.  One camp had the former 3-time Pro Bowl player designated as persona-non-grata for the heinous nature of his crimes against dogs while others believed he deserved a second chance after serving his time.  However much like any big head line story, the Eagles signing of Michael Vick eventually faded into the back pages of NFL news after a while.  The majority of fans that had threatened to boycott their beloved Eagles due to the signing of Vick still packed the stands and on the field the former first overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft had become a “spare” part in the Eagles’ offense.  Vick would come in for a play here or there out of the Eagles version of the Wildcat formation called the “Spread Eagle”.  But other than a big 34-yard run against the San Diego Chargers, No. 7 was relegated to a designed run every so often while mostly watching starter Donovan McNabb from the sidelines.  Vick’s numbers in 9 games – suspended for the first two games — before Sunday were anything, but electrifying (3 of 9 passing for 7 yards and 0 TDs with 15 rushes for 65 yards and no touchdowns).

Even Vick’s return to Atlanta to face the Falcons was considered non- front page news as many figured the former Falcons’ star would play maybe one or two plays as he had done throughout his stint with the Birds.  But fate and a soft spot for a “comeback” story by Eagles head coach Andy Reid stepped in to bring Vick’s name back into the spotlight.  Playing in the Georgia Dome, which was once dubbed “The House that Michael Vick built”, the former 6-year Falcons player was everywhere.  Vick led the Eagles out of the tunnel to start the game, was a designated team captain for the coin toss, and received probably his most playing time of the season.  However when Vick entered the game on the Eagles fifth and seventh plays of their opening possession, he was showered with boos.   But those boos quickly faded in the 3rd quarter. With the Eagles leading 13-0, Reid re-inserted Vick in the redzone.  The former Falcons’ starter lined up in shotgun formation and after a direct snap, Vick ran into the endzone for a 5-yard jitter-bugging touchdown.  The play was pure “Vick” as he sprinted to his right then sharply cut back to his left then broke a tackle before finally divining into the endzone.  The play led to a thunderous ovation as many fans wearing No. 7 jerseys stood for their former superstar. 

As good as his first touchdown run since Oct 15, 2006 felt, the NFL’s only 1,000-yard rushing quarterback had to feel even better later on.  With the game well in-hand, Vick showed everyone that he still has plenty of juice left in his rocket left arm as he fired a 43-yard completion to receiver Reggie Brown.  Then in the redzone for the second time, the “Michael Vick Experience” was back as he sprinted out to his left then lobbed a pass back to the right to wide-open TE Brent Celek in the endzone.  The dome’s roof shook again as indeed the prodigal son had returned home.  Vick finished the day with numbers 2 of 2 passing for 48 yards and 1 TD plus 4 rushes for 17 yards with 1 TD.  Not bad for a “spare part” and there were even chants of “We want Vick! We want Vick!” from his former home crowd in the fourth quarter after his satisfying day was done.  Vick said of the fans cheers for him, “It was as loud as it gets in the Dome, I heard the chants all through the stadium and it sent chills down my spine. They were just letting me know that people still appreciate what I’ve done.”

It was easy to see the pure joy that Vick felt playing back in the ATL.  After the game Eagles starter McNabb said of Vick’s fine performance in his return, “You were seeing a guy in his element.  I think he was just relishing the moment.”  After spending a larger amount of time giving on-field interviews and reflecting,   Vick in his post-game press conference said “It couldn’t have happened at a better time, I want to become one of the top quarterbacks in this league again.”

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award -winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Training Camp Questions – NFC South

Atlanta Falcons

Is 2008 NFL Rookie of the Year quarterback Matt Ryan due for a sophomore letdown season after a magical first year?

Will running back Michael Turner be able to come close to duplicating his 2008 performance (376 carry, 1699 rushing yards, and a franchise-record 17 touchdowns)?

How will perennial Pro Bowl pass catching tight end Tony Gonzalez adjust to more blocking duties with the Falcons after coming over in a trade from the Chiefs?

How much better will receiver Roddy White get after a career year during the 2008 season (88 receptions, 1382 yards, and 7TDs)?

Will the Falcons be able to produce another double-digit win season even though they are facing a very tough schedule (play NFC East and AFC East)?

 Carolina Panthers

 After a disappointing finish to a 12-4 season, is Panthers head coach John Fox on owner Wally Richardson’s hot seat?

Is quarterback Jake Delhomme totally recovered from elbow surgery and should have the Panthers pursued an insurance quarterback in the offseason?

Is it possible that the Panthers running game will be as effective (RB’s Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams combined for 3,251 rushing yards) as in 2008?

How happy is franchised defensive end Julius Peepers and will he have another high sack year (14.5 sacks in 2008)?

Can the 2009 Panthers produce their first back-to-back winning seasons in their team’s history (not done in 14 years of existence)?

New Orleans Saints

After an 8-8 and second consecutive non-playoff season, is head coach Sean Payton feeling the heat to win in New Orleans?

How healthy is RB Reggie Bush’s knee and have the Saints figured out ways to use him other than the miscast role of a featured rusher?

With the addition of three defensive draft picks and several other defensive free agent pick-ups will the Saints cut down on the almost 25 points per game that they allowed in 2008?

Will the Saints achieve more balance on offense with emerging running back Pierre Thomas or will quarterback Drew Brees continue to “wing-it” all over the field (threw for over 5,000 yards in 2008)?

Will Saints receiver Marques Colston bounce back from a sub-par season (47 rec, 760 yards, and 5 TDs) or will another receiver (Lance Moore, Bobby Meachem, Devrey Henderson) need to step-up?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Is young head coach Raheem Morris ready to take over as an NFL head coach after not much experience?

Who is going to be the quarterback (Byron Leftwich, Luke McCown, or Josh Freeman) and will they be able to get the ball to comeback receiver Antonio Bryant?

Will the Bucs be able to replace the leadership of veterans LB Derrick Brooks, QB Jeff Garcia, WR Joey Galloway, and RB Warrick Dunn?

What defensive system will the Bucs be playing and will new defensive coordinator Jim Bates be able to replace Monte Kiffin?

Did the Bucs make the right move by trading for volatile former Browns tight end Kellen Winslow and giving him a huge extension this offseason?

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

The Falcons release Michael Vick

The NFL is full of stories that constantly fuel water cooler talks and just won’t seem to go away (Brett Favre’s Return, Michael Vick’s release from prison, Plaxico Burress’ shooting case, etc).  The possible summer return of formerly imprisoned quarterback Michael Vick to the NFL took another turn on June 12th as his former team, the Atlanta Falcons, finally pulled the plug on the Vick Era in the Atlanta, Georgia.  The former face of the Falcons franchise, who once received a 10-year, $130 million contract extension with $37 million in guaranteed bonuses in December of 2004, was quickly put on the market via a less than 100-word prepared team statement from Falcons GM Tom Dimitroff. 

Even though the release of Vick was no surprise, after the Falcons vainly tried to trade him during the 2009 NFL Draft without any willing takers, Dimitroff was not critical of the deposed passer in his statement.  Even though the team didn’t badmouth Vick out the door, you couldn’t have blamed them if they did as their former star put a huge black-eye on the organization from his dogfighting case and lying about his actions including to team officials. But the young GM said of Vick, who has missed the last two seasons while serving a prison sentence, that their brief conversation “was upbeat” and that both sides were looking forward to moving on.   Dimitroff added, “Respect him as an individual and as an athlete in this profession. It was the right thing to do and I’m happy that we had a conversation today…it was about being positive. It was about moving forward “.

Releasing their former superstar allows the Falcons, Vick, and the Atlanta region, which still has many ardent Vick supporters “to have a clean slate going into the summer”.   Vick is now free to immediately sign with any NFL team even though NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has not reinstated him.  But unfortunately for the Falcons, they now have $7 million in dead money on their salary cap for the 2009 NFL Season.   In a side note, the parting of the former 3-time Pro Bowl quarterback from the Falcons will net the team $6.5-$7.5 million from a deal struck related to former guaranteed money and Vick’s suspension violating his contract with the team.

Now that Vick — career passing numbers of 930-1730, 11505 yards, 71 TDs, 52 INTs, and a 75.7 rating in six years w/ the Falcons — is free to talk to any of the NFL’s remaining 31 teams.  And with his expected July 20th release from house arrest quickly approaching, the subject of his reinstatement is on the tip of everyone’s tongue.  Sure Commissioner Goodell has vehemently said he will not talk about Vick’s situation until his impending release, however you know a face-to-face meeting at the league’s offices in New York City is soon to come.  Goodell has always said the right things regarding Vick’s case including recently saying, “Does he regret what happened?, Does he feel he’s going to be a positive influence going forward?…those are the questions I would like to (ask) when I sit with him.”   Goodell has always been a stickler when it comes to player conduct, but he seems to also have a “second chance” mentality too as shown in his treatment of problem players like Adam “Pacman” Jones, Matt Jones, Tank Johnson, Chris Henry and others.

I had one of my loyal emailers, Greg from PA, ask me if the Vick case will be viewed any differently in light of the recent events surrounding Cleveland Browns receiver Donte Stallworth’s situation.  In case you have been on a deserted island, Stallworth recently copped a plea in Florida where he will be required to serve 30 days in jail for fatally striking Mario Reyes, 59, with his vehicle in a drunk-driving accident.  Even though Stallworth will have to pay the family in a settlement, he was suspended indefinitely by Goodell.  So you have to think the court of public opinion will definitely be weighing-in on Vick’s case versus the Stallworth case.  I know a large portion of the American populace are dog lovers, but I cannot fathom “how” many can vilify Michael Vick — received nearly two yeas in jail and an indefinite suspension from the NFL for his dogfighting acts — yet not be as passionate regarding the cases/punishments given Stallworth and Rams DE Leonard Little (90 days in jail for killing a St. Louis woman in 1998 while drunk driving).  No matter how heinous Vick’s acts were against his fighting dogs, and let’s not fool ourselves they were despicable, there were no dead human beings left in his wake.  I know Stallworth and Little do not stand alone as NFLers who have crossed the judicial line, but the Commissioner and the court of public opinion need to give Vick another chance.

Already former Super Bowl winning head coach Tony Dungy and others in NFL circles have echoed sentiments that Vick deserves his chance at redemption after serving his debt to society.  I say let the NFL teams and their owners decide on their own if the former first overall selection from the 2001 NFL Draft is worth the headache that he brings.  It won’t take long to figure out who is looking at Vick to play as the Jets, Browns, Saints, Colts, Seahawks, and Niners having already said they will not bring him in which is their prerogative.  Browns head coach Eric Mangini said of any interest in Vick, “I wish him well, but really I’m focusing on the guys we have here.” 

But there still is interest in Vick as shown by comments by Dimitroff upon the release of the NFL single season leading rushing quarterback, “As we all know, Mike is an exceptional athlete and he has the ability to play in this league again and I’m sure he probably will”.   I truly believe if his anticipated meeting with Goodell goes well, that an NFL team will give Vick another shot, picketers or not.  Of course Vick will have to take any opportunity he gets to return to the NFL which could include duties as a Wildcat QB, slot receiver, returner, and back-up quarterback. 

Look for the following teams to be to be in the mix to sign Vick: St. Louis Rams (GM Bill Devaney has former ties to Vick from their Falcons days and current starting quarterback Marc Bulger has not been playing at a Pro Bowl level lately); Oakland Raiders (Owner Al Davis, a maverick himself, believes in 2nd chances); Dallas Cowboys (Owner Jerry Jones seems to be running the NFL’s version of a reform school lately and the charismatic leader of the Cowboys also needs better “Romo Insurance” than current back-up Jon Kitna) and Jaguars (need a better backup than Todd Bouman).

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Falcons Find Vick Trade Talks Moot

A week and half after Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff opened the bidding for suspended and imprisoned quarterback Michael Vick by saying, “We feel a trade is the best move for the Falcons, and it’s also in the best interest of Michael”, the Falcons learned that there is no trade market for the deposed passer.  Of course some will paint Vick’s non-trade as a victory for animal lovers as the former quarterback, who is serving time for his role in a federal dogfighting ring, is Persona Non Grata to some after his actions

But the real reason that Vick, scheduled to be released by July 2009, was not traded is plain and simple, “MONEY”.  With NFL free agency scheduled to start on February 27th, no team wanted to overburden their salary cap with Vick’s current huge contract — set to make a base salary of $9 million and $6.43 million more in bonuses in 2009 on his current January 2005 contract extension of 10-years, $130 million with a then NFL-record $37 million in bonuses.  In fact any team trading for Vick would be on the hook for $45.11 million through 2013, with another possible $3 million in Pro Bowl bonuses.  So even if there is a market for the 28-year old Vick, it doesn’t make good business sense for teams to not wait for his inevitable release from the Falcons later this summer and then signing him for the veteran minimum ($760,000 dollars).  The Falcons may even give Vick his chance to find a new home earlier than expected, as they also don’t want Vick’s monstrous contract on their books for the upcoming season (currently at $101 million of the 2009 season’s $124 Million cap).

To those that believe the NFL is a closed door to Vick once he is released from prison, you better wake-up to the reality that in the National Football League winning trumps everything.  Each Sunday NFL fans cheer for players that have committed crimes from domestic violence to weapons charges, so why not give Vick a player who actually served legitimate time in prison another chance.  Mark my words, if Vick is re-instated by commissioner Roger Goodell for the 2009 NFL Season — I expect him to get anywhere from no suspension to a light suspension of 4 games — “Someone will take a shot on him”.  Already in the face of some quarterback starved teams saying, “No Way” to Vick (Vikings, Seahawks, Jets, Buccaneers, and Lions), some good news came from a respected voice around the NFL.  While hedging whether his team had any interest in Vick, San Francisco 49ers’ head coach and hall of fame player Mike Singletary said Vick deserves the chance to play in the league, and believes he will be successful if he returns. 

It will be interesting to see if Vick will continue to draw the hardline on playing quarterback in looking for a rebirth in the NFL — Vick’s agent, Joel Segal, has said the former superstar won’t consider a move to a new position — or humble himself to teams, coaches, and fans by considering any opportunity to return to the NFL (backup QB/Wildcat QB/KR/Slot WR).  I thought an interesting note for all of those “Make Him a Receiver Folks”, Vick has two career catches for negative 13 yards in his NFL career and he has been a quarterback since playing Pop Warner back in his early days in Virginia.  I think his best option would be to latch on to the NFL’s newest a craze, the “Wildcat” offense — need a quarterback that is adept at running and throwing.  The offense is tailored made for Vick as he was the first quarterback in the modern era to rush for 1,000 yards (ran for 1,039 yards and 2 touchdowns in ’06) plus there is also his incredible career 7.3 yards per rush average.  The Wildcat would allow him the opportunity to get on the field in key situations (ex. Goal-line) while he knocks off over 2 years of rust.

So, “Where will Vick go?” is the obvious next question.   Former Ravens head coach Brian Billick told Yahoo, “…the baggage Vick brings will severely limit the available pool of teams”.  The former Super Bowl winning coach turned NFL analyst added, “For one thing, if Vick fails or gets in trouble with his new team, he could bring down the career of the coach and general manager who take a chance on him”.  So it was up to Yahoo to suggest a few teams as landing spots (Raiders, Cowboys or Bengals) and I will add the Rams, Panthers, and Texans.

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

2008 NFL Playoffs: Falcons at Cardinals

Atlanta Falcons (11-5) at Arizona Cardinals (9-7), 4:30 p.m., NBC

Broadcasting Team: Tom Hammond, Cris Collinsworth, and Tiki Barber (Field Reporter)

Everyone will talk about the fact that the Cardinals are hosting a playoff game for the first time since 1947 when they were the Chicago Cardinals.  But the true storyline of this game are the two offenses (Cardinals scored 426 points and Falcons 325).  The question is “Which defense will come up big to stop a scoring barrage?” especially with 3 of the 4 NFC Pro Bowl receivers in the game.  You have a young team led by a rookie coach (5th seeded Falcons) against a veteran team that won a very weak division, but who have been pretty good at home with a 6-2 record (4th seeded NFC West champion Cardinals).

As everyone knows the Falcons are led by 2008 NFL Rookie of the Year quarterback Matt Ryan (265-434, 3440 yards, 16 TDs, and 11 INTs), but the young superstar has one of the leagues best ground attacks to lean on — the league’s No. 2 rushing attack (152.7 yards per game).  The ground attack is led by running back Michael Turner, the greatest UFA acquisitions ever, who came over from the Chargers and hammered the Falcons into the playoffs with 1,699 rushing yards (2nd in the NFL) plus a club record 17 TDs (all rushing).  Turner is spelled by gamebreaker Jerious Norwood (five career touchdowns of 45 yards or more) and don’t forget about Pro Bowl receiver Roddy White, who just established a franchise record for receiving yards (88 catches for 1,382 yards and 7 TDs).

The Cardinals high-octane dome offense is led by 11-year NFL veteran quarterback Kurt Warner, who came off the bench this year to produce another magical Pro Bowl season.  With the former Super Bowl MVP at the controls, the Cardinals have the NFL’s No. 2 passing offense this year (292.1).  Warner’s favorite targets are fellow Pro Bowl selected receivers Larry Fitzgerald (1,431) and Anquan Boldin (1,038) and improving 2nd year player Steve Breaston (1,006) — only the fifth teammate receiver threesome in history with 1,000 yards apiece.  If the Cardinals are smart, they will not forget that playoff games are won with balance and will include running backs rookie Tim Hightower and veteran Edgerrin James in their game plan too.

LV’s Pick:  In breaking down this game, I always like to look at who is the hotter team (Falcons are 4-1 in their last 5 games, while the Cardinals are 2-3) and who can run the ball better (Falcons).  The Cardinals have been a great story, but have too often looked bad against quality opposition – faced five playoff teams with a record of 1-4 in those games.  The Falcons have won 4 out of the last 5 times these two have met.  Look for the trend to continue as the emerging Falcons to run the ball at the Cardinals shoddy front seven on their way to a 34-27 victory.

2008 NFL Season Honors Getting Closer

Whether it is emailers, callers, or co-workers everyone wants to know “Who are my current picks for the major awards this season?”  Of course with four weeks remaining these picks are preliminary and open to change. 

Coach of the Year: Mike Smith, Atlanta Falcons – Team is (8-4) and right in middle of the playoff hunt after being picked to win around 6 games (runner-ups Colts Tony Dungy and Ravens John Harbaugh)

Rookie of the Year: RB Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans – This mercurial rookie is the key to the Titans’ offense as he has run for an NFL sixth highest total of 958 yards and proved he can carry the playoff load (runner-ups Falcons QB Matt Ryan and Ravens QB Joe Flacco)

Most Valuable Player: Kurt Warner, Arizona Cardinals – The graybeard quarterback is looking like his old “Greatest Show on Turf” former Rams self  — seems to have thrown for over 300 yards every game – and Warner has the Cardinals on the brink of winning their first division title since 1975 (runner-ups Colts QB Peyton Manning, Titans DT Albert Haynesworth, Giants RB Brandon Jacobs and Giants DE Justin Tuck)