ATLANTA - As Michael Vick sat at his locker before practice this week, Dan Reeves walked up to the rookie quarterback with a question more befitting a father than a football coach.
"Did you eat lunch?" Reeves said.
"Yes sir," Vick said.
Apparently there is no quarterback controversy inside the circle that makes up the players and coaching staff of the Atlanta Falcons.
Vick, the first overall pick of last year's draft and considered the team's quarterback of the future, likely will spend most of today's game (1 p.m., CBS) against the Buffalo Bills watching from the sidelines as 14-year veteran Chris Chandler continues his role as quarterback of the present.
As long as the team desperately clings to its mathematical chance of qualifying as the sixth and final wild card team, Chandler will stay in the huddle this afternoon inside the Georgia Dome. And that means Vick's development remains on hold.
"I know one of these days I'll get my turn to play," Vick said. "I know this is Chris Chandler's football team. If I play, great. If not, I'll stand on the sidelines and try to learn as much as I can."
During off-season drills and training camp, Reeves said he wanted to slowly work the 21-year-old scrambler into the mix to avoid the hard lessons of giving him too much, too fast.
The original plan for Vick was to play him in a series in each half. That plan lasted only two games. Now he plays when Chandler gets hurt.
Things haven't come quick for Vick. His habit of looking too long for receivers has led to 13 sacks and six fumbles. He's completed just 27 of 63 passes for 395 yards and one touchdown, but he said his growth in the process has been remarkable.
"It's been a fun year," he said. "I've enjoyed every minute. I've learned a lot. I don't question what's going on because I know Coach Reeves still believes in me. I focus on the positive things. I'm totally understanding of everything. I'm acceptable with everything.
"I've come a long way. I'm a lot more relaxed when I'm on the field, a lot more comfortable. I didn't play my first year at Virginia Tech and looking back now, it was a good thing. That's why I'm all right with this."
At the same time, Vick admits the best way to learn is practical experience. Nothing simulates the game like playing time.
"When you do something wrong on the field, it's easier to learn from your mistakes," Vick said. "Being out there and doing it is a lot different than trying to learn in the classroom or watching on the sidelines. Playing through your mistakes is the best way to learn."
Although the Bills are 2-11, Reeves said he doesn't know if Vick will play today.
"Do I have any plans that he's going to go in the ball game? No," Reeves said.
Atlanta's playoff chances are remote. Not only do they need to close out with victories over Buffalo, Miami and St. Louis, the Falcons need New Orleans and Tampa Bay to each lose two of their final three games.
If Atlanta is eliminated from the playoff race today, Reeves won't promise the final two games will be devoted to Vick's maturation process.
"We are going to try to win every football game," Reeves said. "That's all I can tell you. If that means young people or different people or whatever, we're going to try to win. I don't believe you go out and practice and say 'OK, we're looking forward to next year.' I think you go out and try to win every football game you possibly can."
EXTRA POINTS: Defensive end Brady Smith (back) and cornerback Eli Williams (knee) will not play today, while the status for fullback Bob Christain (calf) will be determined shortly before kickoff .. Offensive tackle Ephraim Salaam has recovered enough from a sprained ankle to return to the starting lineup .. This is the final home game for the Falcons this season, and the final home game for the Taylor family as the owners of the franchise. Arthur Blank, the co-founder of Home Depot, will assume control of the team in the next three months.
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