Michael Vick’s first appearance in Atlanta as a starting quarterback with the Philadelphia Eagles ended the same way his last visit began: with him watching instead of playing.
The difference this time was on the scoreboard.
After a neck injury knocked Vick out of last night’s game against the Atlanta Falcons in the third quarter, the Eagles had to rely on third-string quarterback Mike Kafka and surrendered 14 points over the final 11 minutes to lose 35-31 to Vick’s former team.
“We wanted to get pressure on him,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said of Vick, who played for Atlanta from 2001-2006. “We wanted to try to sack him. We executed the game plan.”
Two years ago in Philadelphia’s 34-7 win in Atlanta, Vick spent most of the game on the sideline in Kafka’s position as a third-string backup following his release from prison on a dog fighting conviction. At the time, he said he was grateful just to be back in the National Football League.
Vick took over as the Eagles’ starter last season, was voted the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year and entered this season targeting a Super Bowl title. Vick’s return to Georgia’s capital city came three weeks after he signed a new six-year, $100 million contract. Through almost three quarters of play last night, the Eagles appeared poised for a win and 2-0 start, having seized the lead and momentum.
Falcons safety William Moore then slammed into Vick in the Eagles’ backfield, sending him face first into the chest of 6-foot-6, 321-pound lineman Todd Herremans. Vick’s body bent backward as he fell to the ground. He wasn’t wearing a mouthpiece at the time, bit his tongue and was spitting blood while being led to the locker room a short time later.
“Hopefully he’s okay,” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said in a press conference after the game. “You never like to see anybody go down. So hopefully he bounces back.”
Vick wasn’t available to talk to the media after the game.
Eagles coach Andy Reid said the 31-year-old quarterback had a concussion and would be treated by team doctors.
“We knew that we were putting hits on him,” Falcons linebacker Curtis Lofton told reporters. “You never want to hurt anybody, but at the same time we’re a physical team.”
Vick had completed 19-of-28 passes for 242 yards and two touchdowns before the injury. He also had one interception and had fumbled three times, losing two. Known for his explosive running ability, Vick was limited to 25 rushing yards on six carries by Atlanta’s defense.
With Vick back in town, Atlanta’s Georgia Dome was filled with fans wearing a mixture of Falcons’ and Eagles’ jerseys with his No. 7 on the back. The visiting team drew mostly jeers when Vick led them on to the field to start the game. His first return two years ago drew raucous cheers from Falcons fans.
Ryan, who was still competing at Boston College when Vick last played with the Falcons, said he and his teammates weren’t distracted by the pre-game hype about Vick’s reappearance.
“I couldn’t allow myself to get caught up in those things,” said Ryan, who missed the teams’ 2009 meeting. “Our entire team did a great job of that this week.”
For the Falcons, who were beaten 30-12 by the Chicago Bears in their season opener, last night’s game was more about getting a win and less about defeating Vick.
“We obviously didn’t play our best game, but we played well enough to get it done,” said Smith, whose team went 13-3 last season. “We’re going to move on as quickly as possible because winning in this league is not easy.”
The Falcons will face the Buccaneers next week in Tampa in a matchup of 1-1 teams in the NFC South division.
The Eagles, who committed $225 million in salaries and acquired six Pro Bowl players over a two-week span during the offseason, fell to 1-1 and head into next week’s home game against the New York Giants with Vick’s status in question.
“We could have won this game,” Eagles defensive end Jason Babin told reporters. “It’s not what Atlanta did. It’s what we didn’t do. We handed them the game.”