ATLANTA - As any coach will tell you, most of us media types didn't go to college to play football, which doesn't make us the most astute dissectors of Xs and Os.
But even the most rudimentary gridiron mind understands one thing - offensive game plans and schemes are never game-time decisions.
So when the Atlanta Falcons decided Sunday morning that showcase quarterback Michael Vick would not play against the defending world champion New England Patriots, it's pretty clear that an entirely new offense was not drawn up on the way to the Georgia Dome for Matt Schaub.
Sure did look different, though. Didn't it?
Throwing the ball deeper more often against New England than Vick has attempted all year against everyone else combined, Schaub presented an entirely different interpretation of the Falcons' version of the West Coast offense.
And it almost worked. Should have, really, if anyone had been capable of defending the pass for the Falcons as well as Schaub could throw it.
Schaub, a future free agent, held his own against Tom Brady, a future Hall of Famer. Considering Brady has made one more Super Bowl start that Schaub has made career starts, that's not too shabby. Especially when Brady was spotted a 14-point lead in the first quarter and a 15-point lead starting the fourth.
Brady, however, had the ball last, which meant anyone who has ever seen the Patriots play in the past few years knew the outcome. It ended 31-28, to be exact, on a field goal with 17 seconds remaining by Adam Vinatieri.
The result left Falcons coach Jim Mora in no mood to praise his No. 2 quarterback.
"I thought he played well," was all Mora would say to the first query about Schaub's performance.
If you want to assess blame for a tough loss, there was plenty to go around. The defensive
performance - particularly in the secondary - was as wretched as could be imagined - even against the likes of Brady and the Patriots.
You can't point at Vick's absence as a factor. Not this time.
All Schaub did was throw more touchdowns (three) than Vick has ever done in 44 career starts. He passed for more yards (298) than Vick has in all but one of his 51 games played. He gave them a chance against the three-time Super Bowl champs when nobody would have thought it possible after three quarters Sunday.
This is not an indictment of Vick. He's a proven winner and provides intangibles that no other player in the NFL can. Vick is special.
But as backups go, so is Schaub.
Let's just say that Vick is incapable of doing some of the things Schaub can do routinely just as Schaub is as incapable of doing some of the things Vick does instinctively.
Schaub is neither slow nor immobile, but relative to Vick in the pocket he looks as stationary as the Venus de Milo - only with more arm.
Would it have been nice to have Vick in a couple situations, particularly when the Falcons had to settle for a second-quarter field goal after back-to-back bull rushes proved too harsh for Schaub to handle? Yes. But could anyone complain that Schaub didn't bring out more in Atlanta's offense than Vick often does?
"This team felt confident that we could go out and perform with Matt Schaub and I think we proved that to be true," said Mora, when pressed about Vick's sprained knee.
They didn't just perform, the Falcons performed differently. Schaub attacked the Patriots secondary with deep passes at least 12 times. He completed four passes for at least 20 yards - two shy of Vick's totals for the season. The Falcons' receivers dropped two more.
"I've had people tell me in the past that confidence is the result of demonstrated performance," Schaub said. "I do draw some confidence from the way I played because I was able to be successful."
Considering the outcome, Schaub couldn't really bask in the comfort of a job well done. But he knows he answered a lot of questions about how much better the Falcons are prepared this season to handle anything happening to their star quarterback than they were two years ago when no Vick meant no hope.
"Schaub is a good quarterback," said receiver Brian Finneran, who hauled down Schaub's two-point conversion lob that capped a 15-point comeback to tie it in the fourth quarter. "Everyone on our team has faith in him when Mike is out."
Schaub earned that faith Sunday. He can't be called just a preseason all-star anymore. He's the best insurance the Falcons have right now and until he can become a restricted free agent after next season. It's not the role any quarterback of his caliber could want, but he has the skills to be the best back-up since ... well, Tom Brady.
"When his contract is up," said Finneran, "it's going to be interesting to see what happens to the guy."
Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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