Vick's Physical, Mental Skills On Display
The Tampa Tribune, published 21 December 2003

Michael Vick played as well with his head as with his feet Saturday, an accomplishment that should shake Buc fans down to their toes. Atlanta's 23-year-old quarterback took a major step forward in his maturation process by playing a heady, poised game in leading the Falcons to a 30-28 triumph. Vick's incomparable physical skills were on display at pivotal moments, but he also displayed the judgment of a veteran, throwing several balls out of bounds to avoid sacks and turnovers.

``I'm growing as a quarterback, maturing,'' Vick said after exorcising some Buc demons in completing 8-for-15 for 119 yards and two touchdowns. ``When plays break down and no one is open, I'm keeping myself out of harm's way and avoiding the big mistake,'' he said. ``You've got to play smart football to beat Tampa - and we did that. For us to come down here and knock them out of playoff contention was big for us. That was our goal all week: If we can't go, they can't go.''

Atlanta's only giveaway came with 3:45 remaining when T.J. Duckett fumbled at the Bucs' 4-yard line. Vick had unleashed his most breathtaking move to sustain that 11-play drive, which ate up nearly eight minutes. On fourth-and-one from the Tampa Bay 35, Vick collided with Duckett on an attempted handoff. He promptly sprinted to his right, eluded Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Brooks and outran Ronde Barber for a 2-yard gain before reaching the sideline. Some Buc defenders dropped their heads in disbe lief. Others probably felt like applauding. ``There's not another quarterback in the league who makes that play,'' Monte Kiffin said. ``Nobody else even attempts it. The rest of 'em just fall down.''

In two prior drab performances against the Bucs, Vick appeared jittery. He forced passes and was too quick to take the ball down and scramble. Saturday, he was aided by a ground game that generated 148 yards and kept Vick out of third-and-long situations. ``He showed why the whole league is so excited about him,'' Bucs director of player personnel Tim Ruskell said. ``What you saw [Saturday] was a player maturing, knowing he's not even near his ceiling.''

Vick's first scoring pass came late in the opening quarter on a rollout to his left as he found tight end Alge Crumpler from 6 yards out. Late in the second period, he showed good touch by lofting a 13-yard touchdown pass to Brian Finneran, who owned an 8-inch height advantage against Ronyell Whitaker. ``Mike showed a lot of composure,'' Finneran said. ``The Bucs brought everybody on the play, and we knew they had a short corner out there. We came in with a huge mental block against the Bucs, so this is a huge confidence builder. To put up 30 points against that defense is spectacular.''

Vick's fractured fibula in August ended the season for Atlanta (4-11) before it began, but the Falcons are 2-1 with No. 7 back in the lineup. ``Mentally, now we know we can play with Tampa,'' Falcons center Todd McClure said. ``Mike kept his cool in the pocket and when he had to make the big play, he did. By not trying to make a play that isn't there, he took one for the team and showed everyone just how much he is improving as an NFL quarterback.''