INDIANAPOLIS - Arthur Blank's decision to fire coach Dan Reeves last week was a wise move by the Atlanta Falcons owner. Losing 38-7 to Indianapolis and the Colts' amazing tandem of quarterback Peyton Manning and receiver Marvin Harrison proved it.
The Falcons (3-11) are devoid of leadership. They play poorly. At least Reeves, sitting at home in Buckhead with family members, was able to watch this disaster from afar.
His friend and former defensive coordinator, interim head coach Wade Phillips, was less fortunate.
"My worst fears came to be, in that I worried about a football team with a coach that gets fired in the middle of the week and there's a big letdown," Phillips said. "I felt like there was that in the first half certainly, and I thought in the second half we fought hard and had character. Those things showed, but we just didn't get anything going."
Indianapolis locked up an AFC playoff spot and looked as sharp as the Falcons looked dull in the process. Manning passed for five touchdowns, becoming the first player in NFL history to throw at least 25 touchdown passes in six straight years.
His counterpart, Michael Vick, seemed to spend more time on the RCA Dome turf than he did on his own two feet.
One week after a sterling effort against Carolina, he rushed for just 30 yards on four carries, and his pass protection all but collapsed around him.
"In three years of playing, this was the worst game I've ever had," said Vick, who finished 6-for-19 for just 47 yards and a career-low passer rating of 19.0. "I don't know, but I'm looking forward to bouncing back next week."
"A lot of it had to do with them," Phillips said. "Some of it had to do with us. What we wanted to do was run the football effectively against them and protect the quarterback, but we didn't do those things."
As Edgerrin James ran 20 times for 126 yards, Harrison, Brandon Stokley and Reggie Wayne each caught seven passes, and the threesome combined for 269 yards receiving and all of Manning's TD passes.
The Falcons were out of sync from the start. With Robert Mathis rushing past right tackle Todd Weiner, the left-handed Vick never knew the defensive end was so close behind him. Mathis stripped the ball loose as he sacked Vick for an 11-yard loss, and right end Dwight Freeney recovered the loose ball at the Atlanta 14.
On the next play, Manning threw past Kevin Mathis and Ray Buchanan for a touchdown to Wayne. Indianapolis led 14-0 at the end of the first on Manning's 4-yard pass to Stokley and 24-0 at halftime on Mike Vanderjagt's 43-yard field goal and Harrison's 17-yard TD catch.
The Atlanta defense had nothing to show for two fumbles they forced and recovered in the first half. Linebacker Matt Stewart and left end Patrick Kerney combined to strip the ball away from James and take it away at the 6, but the offense punted four plays later.
In the second quarter, cornerback Derek Ross and linebacker Chris Draft knocked the ball away from Harrison at the Colts' 28. Vick overthrew Price on the next play as cornerback David Macklin intercepted him in the left side of the end zone.
Aside from a 16-yard run that set up T.J. Duckett's 17-yard score late in the third, Vick was never a factor.
"Talking to some of the guys in Tampa, they said that most people slow down, and we didn't want to do that," Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy said. "We wanted to accelerate and speed up and make him make some quick decisions. I thought our cover guys did well, and there weren't a lot of open guys."