“Disappointing and embarrassing,” was how Arthur Blank put it, and such was the overstuffed nature of the day a listener felt moved to ask: Which part? “The performance,” Blank said.
And the the Michael Vick aspect? Blank all but waved that away, saying, “I thought the reaction was mixed. A lot of people are happy to see him back in the NFL, and to see him have success … the reaction certainly was understandable.”
What Vick did Sunday was stimulating but inessential. He scored a touchdown to make it 20-0 and threw for another to make it 34-7. And some Falcons fans indeed cheered his deeds, but it must be noted there were a slew of Eagles fans in the Dome and they’d have saluted Kevin Kolb with much the same gusto.
No matter how it seemed on TV, Vick’s sort of homecoming commanded no consensus. He drew more boos than cheers when he made his first appearance, and even after the two touchdowns this was not — no matter how the national media might portray it — a case of every single Falcons supporter changing sides. The majority came ready to support the home team, but the home team did nothing to hold up its end.
The Falcons were beaten 34-7 in a game with massive playoff ramifications, and they needed a deflected touchdown pass at the final horn to make it that close. Put simply, the 2009 Falcons looked no better than the 1989 Falcons. They looked like a team falling to pieces. Which they pretty much are.
The team that changed five defensive starters over the offseason was forced by injury to change five offensive starters in one week. “We will not make excuses,” Mike Smith said, and a team might well bite the bullet if it’s down a man or two. But down five?
Wasn’t it unrealistic to expect a high-level showing from an offense at half-strength? “Yeah,” said linebacker Michael Peterson, but then he backpedaled. “Not really. Guys have to come in and perform.”
The Falcons, sad to say, have run out of guys. If they get enough men back within the next couple of weeks, the forever-sought second consecutive winning season might still occur. But the playoffs? That ship is steaming out of sight.
What happened Sunday wasn’t a repudiation of the post-Vick design but a grim reminder that an NFL team is only as robust as its health. “Both parties have moved on,” Vick said afterward. “They have a franchise quarterback and they’re putting people around him, and they’re going to continue to make strides. And I’m going to do the same.”
Alas, the franchise quarterback has turf toe. The franchise back has a twice-sprained ankle. At least three starting offensive linemen are injured. The team lost badly Sunday because it lacked the manpower to do any better. Sometimes it’s not who wants it more. Sometimes it’s who has more healthy bodies.
Said Blank: “The team didn’t play up to the level of our expectations. That’s not what Falcons football is about.”
The latest installment of the Michael Vick Experience was a one-shot deal. He won’t be back anytime soon. The Falcons have another game next week, and then the next, and then two more after that. And for all the expressions of embarrassment — Peterson said he was so abashed “it hurts to do this interview” — there wasn’t a real alternative. You need good players to play well. Too many of the Falcons’ good players didn’t play Sunday.
As galling as the score might have been, the game itself was an accurate reflection of relative worth. The Eagles are so stacked they have three quarterbacks better than Chris Redman. The final month can be reduced to this: Either the Falcons get healthy or they keep getting beat. And right now you wouldn’t bet on recuperation.