Vick and the Falcons survived Lambeau


Published: Monday, January 6, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 5, 2003 at 11:14 p.m.

GREEN BAY, Wis.- The Lambeau mystique couldn't last forever. Somebody had to finally stare down the ghost of Vince Lombardi, shrug off the unshakable confidence of Brett Favre and beat the Green Bay Packers in a playoff game in their historic home.

Who better to lead a groundbreaking victory than Michael Vick? The 22-year-old quarterback has been knocking down barriers all season with the Atlanta Falcons.

``We told him to just play like he was in the backyard,'' Ray Buchanan said after the Falcons stunned the Packers 27-7 Saturday night. ``That's what he did.''

A quarterback isn't supposed to dart around like a running back, shaking off tacklers with speed, moves and even a straight arm or two.

Vick did.

A quarterback making his first playoff start isn't supposed to lead a forlorn franchise most of its existence to a convincing victory over the Packers at Lambeau Field.

Vick did.

``I can believe we won,'' defensive end Patrick Kerney said. ``I can't believe we won so bad. I thought it would come down to the last couple of minutes.''

Vick set the tone right away, leading the Falcons to a touchdown on their opening possession for the first time all season. By halftime, Atlanta led 24-0, prompting the green-and-gold faithful to shower their team with boos.

Not even a steady snowfall in the second half could save the Packers on a wintry January night. Green Bay lost at home for the first time in 14 playoff games.

``That was the thing we talked about all week - their winning streak in the playoffs,'' Vick said. ``One day it had to come to an end. Why not let us be the team to do it?''

Why not, indeed.

The Falcons, making their first playoff appearance since the 1999 Super Bowl, now play the NFC's top-seeded team, the Philadelphia Eagles, in another hostile environment, Veterans Stadium.

Vick can't wait.

``I love to be put in these type of situations,'' he said. ``This is where big-time players have to step up.''

Later, coach Dan Reeves stood by like a proud father as Vick paused to do a radio interview. Reeves has been an NFL head coach for 22 years, but he's never seen anyone like this.

``What a great job,'' Reeves whispered, shaking his head. ``This is what excites him.''

Now, having stared down Favre and the Packers, Vick is excited about facing the quarterback he's most compared to, Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb.

McNabb hasn't played since breaking his right ankle in a Nov. 17 victory over Arizona. He missed the final six games of the regular season but began working with the first-team offense during the off week, indicating he'll likely start against the Falcons.

Philadelphia went 5-1 with backup quarterbacks Koy Detmer and A.J. Feeley, clinching the NFC East and earning home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Still, Vick would prefer to go against McNabb, a close friend.

``That would make the game even more exciting,'' Vick said. ``You would have great quarterbacks on both sides of the ball, guys who can change the game with two or three plays.''

Vick did just that against the Packers, who must have felt as though they were trying to tackle a ghost. They got their hands on the quarterback all night, but never brought him down behind the line of scrimmage.

Vick, who finished with 64 yards rushing on 10 carries, provided his signature moment late in the first half. He was cornered by Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila in front of the Green Bay sideline, but simply shoved away the 255-defensive end with his free arm, spun around and took off on a 10-yard run.

``It's very frustrating,'' Green Bay cornerback Bryant Westbrook said. ``We had him in our grasp. He just kept slipping out of it.''

Vick had plenty of help. Mark Simoneau blocked a punt that was recovered for a touchdown. Keion Carpenter intercepted two of Favre's passes and recovered a fumble. Warrick Dunn rushed for 64 yards and caught four passes for 40 yards. T.J. Duckett carried the pile into the end zone on a 6-yard touchdown run that gave the Falcons a commanding 21-0 lead.

``Michael Vick is a great player who makes great plays. We couldn't tackle him,'' Packers coach Mike Sherman said. ``But their whole team played well.''

Now, it's on to Philadelphia, not far from Kerney's hometown of Trenton, N.J.

``The Eagles are the team I grew up cheering for,'' he said. ``When I get home during the offseason, all people talk about are the Eagles. Maybe nsow we can get them talking about the Falcons.''

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