'Starship 7' does just enough to doom Bucs
He only completed eight passes. He ran for only 73 yards. He directed an offense that couldn't even muster a first down in the third quarter. But still, Michael Vick made enough big plays Sunday to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "I call him 'Starship 7,'" Jon Gruden said after his team dropped a 24-14 decision to Vick and the Falcons. "You make a mistake against him, and he turns it into a big mistake. He's a very unforgiving guy. . . . If he runs a naked bootleg and you miss containing him by just a little bit, he runs a 4.2 [40-yard dash] and he makes you pay."

It didn't take long for the Bucs to find out Vick can demoralize you with his arm and his legs. He fired a 45-yard pass to his favorite receiver -- tight end Alge Crumpler -- on the Falcons' first series to set up a 33-yard field goal. On the next series, he set up a touchdown by breaking containment and scrambling for 41 yards. "There comes a point in the game where you have to make a play," Vick said. "The Bucs had the No. 2-ranked defense, but after watching film, we decided we wanted to keep running the ball at them. We were able to keep pounding and pounding and wearing them down, then we were able to take our shots downfield."

The Falcons rushed for 205 yards overall and scored on their first three possessions for a 17-0 lead. Then their offense stagnated and the Bucs managed to cut the lead to 17-14 early in the third quarter. It appeared the Bucs had the momentum going into the fourth quarter, but again Vick made them pay with a big play. Three plays after the Falcons stopped Tampa Bay on a fourth-and-1, Vick fired a 49-yard touchdown pass to Crumpler to provide the final margin of victory. Until that touchdown, with 9:49 left in the fourth quarter, the Falcons had not recorded a first down in the second half. "Mike is such a big sparkplug," Crumpler said. "Just when you need a big play, he comes up with one."

Vick's passing statistics look pedestrian when compared to Peyton Manning or Daunte Culpepper. He has thrown nearly as many interceptions (six) as touchdowns (seven). His passer rating is 20th in the league, and he's averaging only 12 completions per game. But because of his immense physical ability, he finds ways to win. Since the Falcons drafted Vick four years ago, they are 19-10-1 in games he has started, 7-19 in games he hasn't.

The Falcons, under first-year Coach Jim Mora Jr., are 7-2 and off to their best start since their 1998 Super Bowl season. But the scary part for opposing defenses is that Vick is just starting to grasp Mora's West Coast offense. How good will he be when he masters it? "We're learning this new system each and every week and continuing to get better," Vick said. "The exciting part for me is that we're just starting to scratch the surface."

Mike Bianchi The Orlando Sentinel 15 November 2004