Originally created 01/01/02

Rookie QB shows improvement, could start finale



FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons never doubted Michael Vick's ability. They were concerned about his ability to call plays and over mistakes.

Vick, the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft, played his best game of the season in a 21-14 loss at Miami on Sunday, accounting for 277 of the Falcons' 388 yards of total offense.

"I think he's better," coach Dan Reeves said Monday. "He had a couple of things where he had a missed call with the direction. Protection was called one time wrong. We had a formation where he called it wrong one other time. Other than that, he did a really good job."

The 21-year-old Vick will make his second career start this week in St. Louis if Chris Chandler is still hurting. Chandler left in the second quarter Sunday after hitting his right elbow against Dolphins safety Arturo Freeman. Though X-rays were negative, the 36-year-old quarterback sustained some nerve damage and couldn't return.

The players were given Monday off.

"We're going to talk about it today, and tomorrow when we start doing the game plan," Reeves said. "We may want to look at Mike and see how he does in this game or we may go with Chris. We'll just have to wait and see how he is physically."

Reeves refused to speculate as to Chandler's future beyond the Rams game.

"Let's worry about St. Louis," he said. "We'll worry about those decisions later. We've got some time. We don't have to make that decision today."

Atlanta (7-8) has lost four of five after entering December with playoff hopes for the first time in three years. The Falcons failed to have a winning season for the 28th time in their 36-year history. They visit NFC West champion St. Louis (13-2) this week.

Vick, who completed 11 of 20 passes for 214 yards, threw a 1-yard touchdown to Derek Rackley with 9:16 remaining. He also was intercepted twice.

On his second series, Vick lost a fumble at the Atlanta 33 after Lorenzo Bromell sacked him for an 8-yard loss. Four plays later, the Dolphins took a 21-7 lead.

Vick had not played since Chandler left a 35-6 loss to St. Louis three weeks ago. The Rams applied constant pressure, sacking Vick twice and forcing him to make five hurried throws. He completed only 7 of 18 passes for 123 yards.

Against Miami, he played with more composure and flashed his uncanny ability to gain huge chunks of yardage on one play. Vick connected with Brian Finneran for a 52-yard pass that put the Falcons at the Miami 4 midway through the third.

Vick was scrambling to his right in the fourth when he hit Shawn Jefferson for a 48-yard completion at the Dolphins 1. He connected with Rackley on the next play. As the game wore on, Vick could tell Miami, which entered with the NFL's top-ranked pass defense, was getting winded.

"I could see it in their eyes how tired they were," Vick said. "I scrambled around a couple of times, and they were huffing and puffing. They could hardly get a pass rush, and that allowed me to get back there and make some good reads, get the ball out of my hands and get it up-and-down quick to the receivers."

Vick led the Falcons into the red zone on his final four drives, though Finneran made the third series possible. Finneran had beaten Patrick Surtain with 10 minutes remaining when the Miami cornerback turned and intercepted Vick's pass at the 4.

As Surtain reached the Miami 45 on his return, Finneran ran from behind and punched the ball loose, allowing left tackle Bob Whitfield to recover the fumble and set up Vick's long pass to Jefferson on the next play.

"I made some mistakes to give the ball back, but the key is to keep fighting and not to give up," Vick said. "That's the way I've always played my game. Mistakes you need to forget about. Keep playing, and good things will happen."