On a wild night, the Falcons KO Vick and outslug his team

The famous No. 7 made three turnovers and left early. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Michael Vick made three turnovers and left early. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Traffic congealed on Northside Drive 2 1/2 hours before kickoff Sunday night. Ninety minutes later, the line to enter the Georgia Dome was 10-deep and 10-wide. From the crush of humanity, you’d have thought somebody famous was in town.

Actually, somebody famous was. Michael Vick was once the only compelling reason to watch the Falcons, and now he’s a both ex-Falcon and ex-con. In Philadelphia he has become the polished player he never was here, and on this night Vick would oppose a quarterback who’s the pride of Old Penn Charter School, a quarterback some Atlantans insist will never be as good as No. 7.

The vagaries of professional football had kept Matt Ryan and Vick from gracing the same NFL field. When Vick played here as a reserve in December 2009, Ryan was hurt. When Ryan played in Philly last October, Vick was hurt. But now the moment was at hand, and you could have game-planned a full summer and not concocted a more loaded Week 2 collision.

The Falcons, who some have cast as Super Bowl champs-to-be, entered on a six-game losing streak. Granted, four of those were exhibitions, but the first and last of the six were troubling.

The Falcons had been embarrassed by a hot quarterback wearing green back in January, and on Opening Day in Chicago they’d been bulldozed by Brian Urlacher. They needed this game not just to prove that, almost five years after Vick had last taken a snap as a Falcon, they’d emerged from his considerable shadow; in more pragmatic terms, they needed it to remind themselves they know how to win.

Three minutes into the third quarter, the Falcons were on track to doing both. They led 21-10 largely because Vick kept giving them the ball. (With a former Atlantan working for Philly and a native Philadelphian playing for Atlanta, sometimes it gets confusing.) Perhaps trying to earn his way into the Falcons’ Ring of Honor, Vick fumbled twice near the end of the first half and threw an interception to open the second.

Down 11, the Eagles responded with a quick touchdown — the Eagles are nothing if not quick — and then Ryan threw an interception and then Matt Bosher, who punts for the Falcons, dropped one out-of-bounds at the 20. This, if you’re a punter, is usually a good thing. Trouble was, this punt plopped down on the Falcons’ 20. Soon the visitors led by 10, and that might have been that. Except for one thing.

Vick was gone. He’d been hit on a pass and driven into one of his blockers. He left for the locker room with what was described as a neck injury — as he exited, he responded to boos by pointing to the scoreboard — and suddenly a game gone wrong was winnable again. The Falcons were 10 points in arrears, but they had more than a quarter left and they were facing a quarterback named, appropriately, Kafka.

“A lot of ebbs and flows,” Mike Smith, the Falcons’ coach, would say afterward.

With 4:48 to play, the Falcons were again in front. Ryan had been having an odd game — he had thrown three touchdown passes but had dealt two interceptions and been hurried and harried — but reverted to precise form with his team under duress. His fourth touchdown pass brought the Falcons close, and then Michael Turner galvanized the go-back-ahead surge with a 61-yard burst and a scoring sweep.

A four-point lead with 4:48 remaining wouldn’t have seemed a cushion against Vick, but against Mike Kafka the dynamics were rather different. On such a bizarre night, though, it somehow made sense that we’d be handed a Kafkaesque finish. The Philly sub led his team upfield, and was it possible the fancied Falcons would slip to 0-2 having been beaten by the namesake of a famed existentialist?

Er, no. Jeremy Maclin dropped a fourth-down pass that would have given the Eagles a first down at the Falcons’ 15, and the home side had done the job. It had beaten Michael Vick’s team while battering Michael Vick, and it had won a game that filled an immense need.

“It was perseverance,” Smith said. “You can’t overstate that.”

No, you can’t. Sometimes it matters less how well you play than how hard. This was such a night. The Falcons didn’t look nearly their best, but there’ll be time enough for fine-turning. This was one of those games that had to be won by any means necessary, and it was.

By Mark Bradley

430 comments Add your comment

flanker

September 18th, 2011
11:55 pm

One of the first.

D.Ellis

September 18th, 2011
11:55 pm

FIRST!!!!!!!

GO FALCONS!!!!!!

D.Ellis

September 18th, 2011
11:56 pm

Dangit flanker!!!

Motivation

September 18th, 2011
11:56 pm

Dam mark is Vick alright, what if his neck is broke?

Mark Bradley

September 18th, 2011
11:57 pm

Kudos, flanker.

GT 2011

September 18th, 2011
11:57 pm

Great Win by the Falcons!!! Sam Baker should be fired.

jimbob

September 18th, 2011
11:57 pm

adam

September 18th, 2011
11:57 pm

GREAT GAME! defense gave up too many yards tho…..also too many penalties, some of which should have never been called and a few that wasn’t called but should have been…..

GT 2011

September 18th, 2011
11:58 pm

Sam Baker should be fired. Great Win Falcons!!

Up from the grave they flew.....

September 18th, 2011
11:58 pm

Second and solid win Dirty Birds!!!

GIVE ME A BREAK

September 18th, 2011
11:58 pm

Point of interest, the Falcons have 13 players from the ACC.

Dentster

September 18th, 2011
11:59 pm

Sam Baker had his butt kicked tonight. He was back on his heels which is why he couldn’t block. No tricks or special moves, he was bum rushed again and again. He did not look like a first round draft at all.

TheAntiMe

September 18th, 2011
11:59 pm

It’s so cool to finally beat those dudes!

UGAFalconsBraves

September 18th, 2011
11:59 pm

Mark, what do you think about the class act from Vick pointing to the scoreboard? I wish I could direct him to the scoreboard now.

Bullseye

September 18th, 2011
11:59 pm

Enter your comments here

Bullseye

September 19th, 2011
12:00 am

over the hump

Wendell

September 19th, 2011
12:00 am

Matt Ryan is the man.

Mike Vick will never be as tough as Matt Ryan.

Go Falcons.

Show Me State of Mind

September 19th, 2011
12:00 am

Glad and surprised we won the game…but was one of those wins where I was stil smh…no defense…no o-line…Ryan wet the bed again…yet Vick choked worse and we were nearly beaten by their 3rd string at the end…hung on by fingernails…I did not relax one time the WHOLE game….not enough to drink to stomach the game…how the hell did we win this game?????

Redoubt

September 19th, 2011
12:00 am

Time to leave the red #7 jerseys at home or wear another team’s colors.

Falcons earned this one… and also earned the right to leave the ghost of Vick in the past.

HawksFanNorcross

September 19th, 2011
12:01 am

Hey Vick, point at the score board now.

Mikey "Choke" Vick

September 19th, 2011
12:01 am

Mikey “Choke” Vick: “Sorry guys, I bit my tongue, so I’m done for tonight. Plus, I gotta schedule a dog … grooming.” :-)

BvgNeedsaHaircut

September 19th, 2011
12:01 am

Hey philly only took six quarters to send vick’s ass to the locker room this year

Thorpe

September 19th, 2011
12:02 am

Enter your comments here

extremus

September 19th, 2011
12:02 am

Big win for the season and for Matt Ryan. This was needed on a lot of levels, not only to help exorcise the still-lingering presence of Vick with the Atlanta fanbase (I really don’t know whether that can EVER be accomplished, but the results tonight did feel somewhat vindicating as a Falcons fan) but to avoid going 0-2 to begin a tough regular season schedule.

I hope Michael Vick’s injury isn’t too serious; I was glad the blood was just from a bitten tongue as opposed to something potentially really bad. But Matt Ryan, for his part, answered a lot of criticism from certain folks regarding his fortitude and toughness despite being rushed and hit all night (seriously, we HAVE to get him some decent O-Line protection!!!); even being able to get back up after doing that split with a defender on top of him was an accomplishment, much less going on to lead the Falcons to a big comeback win.

Overall, a good night and a big win. GO FALCONS!!!

Falcon1364

September 19th, 2011
12:02 am

Just what I wanted. A Falcons win and Vick getting hurt ! Gotta love it.

Stan

September 19th, 2011
12:03 am

Vick was hurt and taken out of game early in 3rd quarter and winning.

Yum Yums

September 19th, 2011
12:03 am

Vick is half the man that Ryan is. Ryan a much better overall football player than Vick.

Show Me State of Mind

September 19th, 2011
12:03 am

The best part of the game was seeing Vick knocked out of it. Why no helmet to helmet or late hit flag/penalties all night long on hits to Ryan? This was by far one of the worst officiating jobs I have ever seen. matt Ryan looked god awful for most of the game. Why TF is Sam Baker on this team???

Birdfan43

September 19th, 2011
12:04 am

Great game! Welcome home Mike, hows that taste?

BlahBlahBlah

September 19th, 2011
12:04 am

rooting for him to get hurt is low rent garbage

thebiz

September 19th, 2011
12:04 am

Sam Baker for first taxi out of town!!! He got manhandled. Go Birds.

BvgNeedsaHaircut

September 19th, 2011
12:04 am

Stan, nice observation

aaa

September 19th, 2011
12:04 am

NFL Network had to show all the “fans” wearing #7. You should all be ashamed. You’re not Falcons fans. You’re sad people who can’t move from the past. Do you have your Breese jerseys out yet?

Paul H

September 19th, 2011
12:04 am

FINALLY. All you #7 jersey wearers, go back to Philly with Vick.

Thorpe

September 19th, 2011
12:04 am

Michael Vick is a gadget quarterback – he will never be the complete QB that the Falcons now have. Thank goodness for Matt Ryan. Vick couldn’t lead the birds to two consecutive winning seasons. Matt Ryan is now working on his 4th in a row!

Good riddance vick (and all of your racist jersey wearing fans).

Show Me State of Mind

September 19th, 2011
12:04 am

Best part of the game was knocking out the dog killer

alpha9

September 19th, 2011
12:04 am

how is it when you lead 2 straight 80 yds drives and throw for 4 tds while getting beat up all night is wetting the bed???

newsguy

September 19th, 2011
12:05 am

What a wonderful game. Not only did Philly lose but Mike ‘torture the dogs’ Vick was put out of commission for the rest of the game. Now that’s Bad Newz for them.

Darth Hater

September 19th, 2011
12:06 am

As a lifelong Falcons Fan and supporter of the red & black, I don’t even care about Michael Vick’s illegal interstate gambling operation that involved dogfighting.

I stopped being a Michael Vick fan when the “content of his character” revealed that he had KNOWINGLY gone around and infected numerous unsuspecting women with his Herpes and other STDs without telling them just because he “didn’t like to talk about it.” He selfishly just wanted to gratify himself at the expense, health & well-being of other human beings.

For that alone, I hope that monster burns in the eternal flames of Hell.

By the way,

Go, Falcons!

BvgNeedsaHaircut

September 19th, 2011
12:06 am

Mothership blames eagles loss on lockout hangover….sorry we couldn’t fit the buck return script

Old Blue

September 19th, 2011
12:06 am

Time for some Vicks Vaporub. Good for people dog tired and needing some extra breathing.

dre

September 19th, 2011
12:07 am

Good job fans in attendance! You made us look great with all those empty seats showing on national television when the game came down to the last play. Hope you were able to use those new-fangled cellphones on the way out!!!

Chris P. Bacon

September 19th, 2011
12:07 am

As soon as Kafka entered the game, I knew Mark Bradley would find a way to work “Kafka-esque” into his recap of the game. It took him nearly ten paragraphs but he came through for me!

extremus

September 19th, 2011
12:07 am

Mr. Bradley, my last comment apparently got caught by that random screen thingy again. Anyway, I basically wanted to say that Matt Ryan definitively answered a lot of questions tonight about his toughness and fortitude. Just being able to get back up after doing a split with a defender on top of him (time to get him some actual O-Line protection!!!) was impressive, but leading the Falcons to the win afterward was even moreso. Great win.

Show Me State of Mind

September 19th, 2011
12:08 am

Spitting up blood, broke neck? Pointing at the scoreboard…RICH This was a heavyweight fight in which our light in the loafers defense somehow hung on by the tiniest fingernail. Mike Smith truly looked scared all night long. Matt Ryan had a good comeback at the end (from all his many boneheaded mistakes) It seemed knocking Vick out of the game got Matt Ryan started.That and the catch Julio Jones FINALLY made !

JK

September 19th, 2011
12:08 am

The haters can say what they want, but Ryan went from looking lost and beat up to leading the team back for a win. Vick’s absence in the game had no bearing on the fact that Ryan lead the Falcons on two 80 yard drives. And if Vick wasn’t knocked out of the game, there’s certainly no guarantee that the Eagles would have won. Remember that Atlanta scored twice off of Eagles’ turnovers when Vick was in the game. Overall, a nice and much needed win.

That being said, our corners continue to be our achillies heel, just like last year, and our offensive line needs to be stronger. These seem like the same areas of weakness from last year, and if these two areas don’t improve, I can’t see this team going anywhere in the playoffs, regardless of how gutsy Matt Ryan is.

7 is Unlucky Everywhere

September 19th, 2011
12:08 am

Bite your tongue! Falcons pulled out a much needed win.

Beast of Burden

September 19th, 2011
12:08 am

Big win despite another O-line meltdown. Sam Baker is a stiff, Cole whupped him all night long. Kudos to Matt Ryan for standing in there, he had happy feet at times but who could blame him. He was getting hit on every pass. The Vick vs. Ryan debate will go on but I think both men are excellent qb’s with totally different styles. The moron that said Ryan wet the bed has clearly never taken a hit in his life, Matt Ryan led his team to an improbable victory.

buckhead benny

September 19th, 2011
12:08 am

Letting Harvey Dahl go does not look like a smart decision at all- Why are we the only team in the league that has a kicker that can not routinely kick it in the back of the end zone when we are spotted an extra 5 yards? I watched Dahl’s replacement- he sux- I think he is too tall at 6′7 to play guard nose tackles just get under neath him and he is getting drove into the running backs and back field almost every play- You mean to tell me there is no one in the league that just got cut that isn’t better than him and Sammy “the bull rush” Baker?

Don’t even get me started on Christoher owens- he was beat by 5 yards when maclin missed that pass that’s why Andy was laughing because that was pure luck-

Hey I will take it but hell you got to address dahl’s replacement, baker, and c. owens, and the new punter they are flat out horrible.

extremus

September 19th, 2011
12:09 am

Two comments now haven’t gone through (at least not yet). Mr. Bradley, have I been banned for some reason (if so, I wouldn’t know why; I try to be civil on here)?