Vick Didn't Excel, But He'll Get His Chances
In stark contrast to all things anticipated Sunday afternoon at Raymond James Stadium, Michael Vick did not amaze, daze or revolutionize the NFL. Mostly, he just kept getting knocked down and picking himself off the ground. The hottest football player on earth was left sitting at room temperature. Remember the days when it seemed no Hall of Fame career was complete until it was immortalized by film clips of the player shredding the falling and fumbling Buccaneers as he raced to glory? During the years, no team has ever made so many great players look even better.

Well, not this time. Michael Vick, a quarterback of unquestioned ability, speed and magic, may one day take his place as one of the NFL's greats, but he will not get any help from the Buccaneers. The NFL's newest ultimate weapon fired blanks, completing 12 of 25 passes for 125 yards. He was sacked twice and threw one interception. He ran the ball five times for 15 yards. He did, however, run for his life much of the afternoon. ``They did a tremendous job getting penetration and pressuring us,'' Vick said. ``They kind of took us out of our game plan a little bit. I take my hat off to them. They're a great defense and hopefully we'll see them again.''

Vick, a would-be Virginia Tech senior, still may be too young to fully appreciate the old saying about being careful what you wish for because you might just get it. ``They won the war,'' he said. ``Yeah, they won the war but it's the second war of many during my career. This will be my rival.''

That could be fun. For the last eight weeks - since leaving the game in the third quarter in Tampa Bay's 20-6 win at Atlanta - Vick had led his team on a 6-0-1 streak (he missed the Giants' game the week after losing to the Bucs) while sending NFL observers into a fawning search for new adjectives and active verbs to describe his feats and his feet. A mix of speed, talent and ability to improvise during that stretch caused the NFL to proclaim Vick the most energizing force to hit the league since Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders.

But Sunday, one week after passing for 173 yards and running for 173 yards - the greatest rushing game ever by an NFL quarterback - Vick spent the day running for naught. Now, in two meetings with the Bucs, Vick has completed a combined 16 of 37 pass attempts for 167 yards with one touchdown and one interception. And the man who was averaging 54 yards rushing, has a total of 16 in two games against Tampa Bay. Teams think it's hard running on the Bucs. Try running away from them. ``Those guys have speed,'' Vick said. ``They have speed other teams don't have. When you have a defense that can move around and run just as fast as the guys you have on offense, you are going to have to fight for everything you get.''

If the results were any sweeter, the Bucs' defense would be suffering from a sugar buzz. Vick took a relentless physical pounding and the Falcons offense never took flight. Eight of Atlanta's 12 offensive possessions ended in three-and-out or worse. The Falcons finished with 181 net yards - 103 of them coming in the second half which they began trailing 21-3. ``When I stepped out on the field, I knew it was going to be tough,'' Vick said. ``You watch those guys on film, you watch the teams they play and you look at their record and it speaks for itself.''

Nothing, however, says ouch! like being there. The Falcons' mission statement has been to present Vick with an opportunity to win the ballgame by doing something amazing with pure physical ability. Run the ball, drag the team. Pass the ball, drag the team. There is, however, so much one man can do when there is no place to go. The NFL's ultimate trump card is speed. More than power, more than finesse, speed kills. Just look what it did to the Michael Vick bandwagon, left broadsided and broken along the side of North Dale Mabry Highway. ``Regardless of today, I'd like to see someone who does not say he's a phenomenal quarterback and a phenomenal athlete,'' insisted Atlanta fullback Bob Christian. ``I guarantee you, even though Tampa Bay shut him down twice this year, they still have a lot of respect for him. And if they lose that respect for him, and we play them again, they'll be in trouble.''

Just not yet.