Originally created 12/14/03

Phillips, Vick try to pick up pieces



INDIANAPOLIS -- Wade Phillips spent this week picking up the pieces of Atlanta's shattered season.

"It's been a little hectic," Phillips said after being handed the job Wednesday. "We're just trying to get the team settled down and concentrate on the ballgame."

For the Falcons (3-10), who play at Indianapolis on Sunday, it's been that kind of year.

They never found a suitable replacement for Michael Vick after he went down in the preseason with a broken right leg and missed 11 games. Then, just when Vick was healthy and it appeared the Falcons might begin playing to expectations, owner Arthur Blank shook up the team by firing Dan Reeves and replacing him with Phillips.

The whirlwind week has included shuffling coaching duties, meeting with players and trying to put some semblance of a game plan together before hitting the road and facing the Colts, who are trying to finish their postseason plans.

The Colts (10-3) can clinch a playoff spot with a win, can wrap up the AFC South title with a win and a Tennessee loss and still have visions of a first-round bye.

Phillips knows it's a lot to ask of a team in flux.

"No kidding," he said. "You're taking a team with 10 losses against a team with 10 wins and then you say, 'We'll play you there on top of it.' But I believe in our guys."

The primary reason for Phillips' faith is Vick, the NFL's most dangerous quarterback who looked sensational last week in his first start of the season. Vick had a hand in 320 of the Falcons' 380 yards, including 141 yards rushing, the NFL's third-highest total by a quarterback.

On Monday, Vick's right ankle was understandably sore and although he's listed as questionable, Indianapolis expects him to play.

How big a difference does Vick make?

"Well, we lost to Carolina 23-3 without him and beat Carolina 20-14 with him," Phillips said. "He's one of the best players you'll see and he makes a difference on any football team."

Vick's presence certainly makes the Colts' job tougher, changing what seemed a certain victory against floundering Atlanta into an immense challenge.

Colts coach Tony Dungy got his first glimpse watching last Sunday night's game on television. He just shook his head after reviewing the tape.

The biggest struggle is preparing for Vick.

Indianapolis, like every other NFL team, struggled to simulate Vick in practice. Dungy used the left-handed, but much less evasive, Brock Huard on the scout team.

"Obviously, we don't have a person who does exactly what he does," Dungy said. "So we were trying to get the defense in the habit of moving around, chasing their guys, trying to chase a moving target."

The Falcons are scrambling, too.

Phillips turned over the defensive signals to secondary coach Emmitt Thomas, and offensive coordinator Pete Mangurian and quarterbacks coach Mike Johnson will share play-calling duties.

The only certainty seems to be that the Colts will get a nightmarish dose of Vick and his dazzling skills.

"If he gets me, he gets me," Colts defensive tackle Larry Tripplett said. "You have to keep trying to chase him down. Last week we had (Steve) McNair, so all you can do is try to use our speed to our advantage."

That won't be easy. Against Carolina, one of the league's top defenses, Vick bounced around like a pinball.

This week, he'll face a defense that has allowed 25.5 points the last 10 weeks, but has improved to No. 15 against the run by not allowing a 100-yard rusher in three weeks.

Vick, as the Colts know, could change that in the blink of an eye.

"I don't think you're going to find many 4.4 guys who can throw the ball that far and that accurate," Dungy said.

The biggest question is how the Falcons will respond to the coaching change. Phillips has been through this before, coaching the final four games when he replaced his father, Bum, as New Orleans' interim coach in 1985. He went 1-3 that time and is already cautioning against a big turnaround.

All Phillips wants this week is for his team to play like it did against the Panthers.

"I don't know if you can get past it," he said of the team's turmoil. "You can address it and that's what I did. You have to play with pride and I think we'll do that."