Vick injures shoulder as Falcons fall to 1-3
Like their quarterback, the Falcons might be improved but they still have a lot of growing to do. Tampa Bay's 20-6 victory Sunday at the Georgia Dome not only dropped Atlanta to 1-3 and bumped the NFC South rival Bucs to 4-1 (like fellow division rival New Orleans), but also emphasized that it's too early to pronounce Mike Vick the NFL's Man of the Year. The X-rays were negative on Vick's sprained right (non-throwing) shoulder. The medical staff wouldn't predict if he'll be able to play against the New York Giants Sunday.

The recent buzz that Vick and his team had created died in a flurry of flubbed Falcons chances in the first half, and a bevy of big Bucs plays after halftime. After forging a 3-3 halftime tie, the Falcons were taken out back, flogged and left in a heap. When it was over, left tackle Bob Whitfield stood near midfield, hands on hips, and tried to believe. It wasn't easy. "We had complete control [in the first half], and we're not putting any points on the board," Whitfield said. "I can tell from the locker room the feeling is a lot different; we don't go into games feeling like there's some aura over our heads that we're some. . . losers. But it still all boils down to wins and losses."

Vick came in with an NFC-best 101.1 passer rating. He left beaten and bruised after playing more like Michael than Mike -- which is to say his performance was reminiscent of his rookie efforts. After completing 62.3 percent of his passes in the first three games, Vick completed 4 of 12 Sunday for 37 yards. He threw like former Cardinals pitcher Rick Ankiel -- all over the place. "I wasn't too amped up," he said, using a phase he has used to describe his erratic play last season. "I was trying to make plays. I missed [wide receiver Brian Finneran] early, I missed [tight end] Alge [Crumpler]. There were a couple throws I could have made."

Vick didn't run, either. His team-high rushing average of 61.3 yards per game took a beating as he carried once for 1 yard. The Bucs, probably the fastest defense in the NFL, allowed few openings. And the Falcons rarely took chances when offered.In the first half, Allen Rossum returned the opening kickoff 47 yards, Atlanta was plus-two in takeaways, recovered a surprise onsides kick, and the Bucs didn't run their first offensive play until there was 4:55 left in the first quarter.But Jay Feely missed a 47-yard field goal, and Atlanta did little with its good fortune while being outgained 347 yards to 243. "To only get three points out of all that, that was probably the story of the game," said Falcons coach Dan Reeves, whose record since the Super Bowl season of 1998 fell to 17-35.

Vick's afternoon ended on the third play of the second half, when his shoulder bore the brunt of a Simeon Rice sack. Soon, though, a field goal gave Atlanta a 6-3 lead in the third quarter. But the floor was about to give way .Facing third-and-6, Bucs wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson and Falcons cornerback Juran Bolden were only arms' length apart as Bolden lined up in man-to-man coverage. A 76-yard touchdown play down the right sideline followed, and the 10,000-plus Bucs fans among the Georgia Dome crowd of 68,936 went wild. "I should have jammed him inside," Bolden said. "He got outside. [Then] I dove. If I dive, I've got to get it or intercept it. I can't leave my feet."

Minutes later, punter Chris Mohr, on a fake punt, threw to Brian Kozlowski, who got hammered by Bucs reserve safety Dexter Jackson. The ball popped loose, reserve Bucs cornerback Dwight Smith intercepted, and soon thereafter Tampa Bay kicked a field goal to make it 13-6. On Atlanta's next play, Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice collared Falcons quarterback Doug Johnson. The ball again popped up in the air, and Tampa Bay defensive end Warren Sapp intercepted it before lateraling to linebacker Derrick Brooks, who ran it back 15 yards for a touchdown. With 6:14 left and Tampa now leading 20-6, the end was at hand.

The Falcons' mental state? "Angry," said defensive end Patrick Kerney. "I hate losing, and I hate doing it three times in the first four games.

"[End] Brady [Smith] said when we came in the locker room, he said, 'You got to remember this feeling; you got to pin it in your gut. All week in practice, when you're tired and not wanting to work, you remember this game, stay angry and stay hungry.' "

MATT WINKELJOHN The Atlanta Journal-Constitution October 2002