Five questions for Falcons
By MATT WINKELJOHN of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
1. Who was the star of the game?
Left guard Martin Bibla. He didn't intercept any passes (Keith Newman, Keion Carpenter, Juran Bolden and Bryan Scott did that), and he didn't score. But Bibla was the poster man for his team. Everybody thought he'd get abused in his first NFL start (in place of injured linemen Roberto Garza and Travis Claridge), working against defensive tackle titans Warren Sapp and Anthony McFarland. He not only didn't, he played quite well. The second-year veteran's resolve mirrored that of his beleagured teammates.
"I haven't played a full game in about two years, since [the University of] Miami, so I was kind of second-guessing my own ability," he said. "[Linemates'] confidence helped my confidence."
2. What happened on that fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter?
Michaell Vick ran into running back T.J. Duckett while trying to make a handoff, then ran wide around right end for 2 yards. "That was my fault," Vick said. "I went the wrong way."
Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin wasn't smiling. "There's not another quarterback in the league who makes that play," Kiffin said. "Nobody else even attempts it. The rest of 'em just fall down."
3. Was Vick any better Saturday?
Yes, he completed a modest 8 of 15 passes for 119 yards and two critical touchdowns. As a thrower, he wasn't superb, but his pocket presence was greatly improved from his performance six days earlier at Indianapolis. He was not sacked. And the Falcons even rolled Vick out right, for a change, on a successful pass play. In what might come to be considered a watershed moment, he bootlegged 12 yards around the right side on third-and-5 minutes after the fourth-down play. The end zone was in range. So were two defenders closing fast. Last year, Vick goes for the end zone, and he might have scored. But he would have had to put himself in big-time harm's way to even try. With a 30-14 lead at the time, with the first down in his pocket, he peeled out of bounds at the Bucs' 3-yard line. Great decision.
4. What concerns arose?
On the next play, Duckett lost his second fumble in three games. One set up the Panthers' go-ahead drive Dec. 7, and Saturday's miscue at the Bucs' 4-yard line launched Tampa Bay on a touchdown drive that cut Atlanta's lead to 30-22. "I just wanted to score, and I knew if I got into the end zone the game's over," Duckett said. "The ball just got away from me."
5. Who's crying now?
Travis Hall got the pub, but Cory Hall, a safety who's not related, tangled up Bucs wide receiver Keenan McCardell on a route over the middle on the last two-point play. Quarterback Brad Johnson had to hold the ball longer, giving Travis Hall time to work. "I had some choice words for the official," McCardell said. "When he looks at the film, he will see, I believe I was tackled. I'll look and see if I can run a better route, but I don't see how when a guy has both hands around my waist." Last year, the Bucs get that call. Next, Tampa Bay mangled an onside kick. "I can assure you that's not the way [the last kick] was drawn up," Bucs safety John Lynch said. "It symbolizes the whole season for me," Sapp said. "We got the engine going, but it was a little too late," McCardell said. Last year, the Bucs call the play correctly. World champs, RIP.