For the first time since 2006, QB Michael Vick had the Georgia Dome rocking with a strong performance.
The Philadelphia Eagles' 34-7 shellacking of the Atlanta Falcons became a footnote to a bigger story.
No, it was not the fact that the Eagles (8-4) are now tied for first place in the NFC East with the Dallas Cowboys.
The storyline that dominated Sunday afternoon’s game was the triumphant return of Eagles' backup quarterback Michael Vick to the Georgia Dome.
The trip back to Atlanta had been an emotional one for Vick.
He later admitted to tearing up on the bus ride over to the stadium.
This was the city where he first made his mark in the NFL as the Falcons' star player, only to fall to tragic lows in 2007 due to his involvement in dogfighting.
Vick’s fall from grace was swift, and, when he went to prison for a 23-month sentence, he not only left behind his family and friends, but also the franchise that stood by him since he first entered the NFL in 2001.
Falcons' owner Arthur Blank had given the keys to the franchise to a young man he considered to be like a son, only to have Vick disappoint him, ultimately causing the team to walk away from their electrifying star.
While Vick was beginning his prison sentence in late 2007, the Falcons were also a shattered mess.
The 2007 season was one of the worst in Falcons’ history as the team finished with a dismal record of 4-12, their head coach Bobby Petrino quit with only a few games left, and many blamed the duo of Blank and Vick for the overall collapse of the former 2004 NFC Championship contender.
Vick finished his six-year Falcons’ career with passing numbers of 930-1730, 11,505 yards, 71 TDs, 52 INTs, and a 75.7 rating, plus a record of 38-28-1 as a starter.
Though the Falcons rebounded in 2008 to make the playoffs under Rookie of the Year quarterback Matt Ryan, the attention of many in Atlanta still remained with Vick.
The journey of Vick from a jailed dogfighter back to the NFL has been well documented.
When the Eagles first signed the former Falcons' star in mid-August, there was a firestorm of activity on message boards, talk radio, and any other medium associated with fan feedback.
To say the least, the Vick signing was polarizing across the country, sometimes along racial lines, especially in Atlanta and Philadelphia.
One camp had the former three-time Pro Bowl player designated as persona-non-grata for the heinous nature of his crimes against dogs, while others believed he deserved a second chance after serving his time.
However, much like any big headline story, the Eagles' signing of Michael Vick eventually faded into the back pages of NFL news after a while.
The majority of fans who had threatened to boycott their beloved Eagles because they signed Vick still packed the stands, and, on the field, the former first-overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft had become a “spare” part in the Eagles’ offense.
Vick would come in for a play here or there out of the Eagles' version of the Wildcat formation, the “Spread Eagle.”
But other than a big 34-yard run against the San Diego Chargers, No. 7 was relegated to a designed run every so often, mostly watching starter Donovan McNabb from the sidelines.
Vick’s numbers in nine games—he was suspended for the first two—before Sunday were anything but electrifying (3-of-9 passing for seven yards, 0 TDs, 15 rushes for 65 yards, and no touchdowns).
Even Vick’s return to Atlanta to face the Falcons was not considered front page news, as many figured the former Falcons’ star would play maybe one or two plays as he had done throughout his stint with the Birds.
But fate and a soft spot for a “comeback” story by Eagles' head coach Andy Reid stepped in to bring Vick’s name back into the spotlight.
Playing in the Georgia Dome, which was once dubbed “The House that Michael Vick Built,” the former six-year Falcons' player was everywhere.
Vick led the Eagles out of the tunnel to start the game, was a designated team captain for the coin toss, and received probably his most playing time of the season.
However, when Vick entered the game on the Eagles fifth and seventh plays of their opening possession, he was showered with boos.
Those boos quickly faded in the third quarter.
With the Eagles leading 13-0, Reid re-inserted Vick in the red zone.
The former Falcons’ starter lined up in shotgun formation, and, after a direct snap, Vick ran into the end zone for a five-yard jitterbugging touchdown.
The play was vintage Vick, as he sprinted to his right, then sharply cut back to his left, then broke a tackle before finally diving into the end zone.
The play led to a thunderous ovation as many fans wearing No. 7 jerseys stood for their former superstar.
As good as his first touchdown run since Oct. 15, 2006, felt, the NFL’s only 1,000-yard rushing quarterback had to feel even better later on.
With the game well in hand, Vick showed everyone that he still has plenty of juice left in his rocket left arm, as he fired a 43-yard completion to receiver Reggie Brown.
Then in the red zone for the second time, the “Michael Vick Experience” was back as he sprinted out to his left then lobbed a pass back to the right to wide-open TE Brent Celek in the end zone.
The dome’s roof shook again as, indeed, the prodigal son had returned home.
Vick finished the day with numbers 2-of-2 passing for 48 yards and one TD, plus four rushes for 17 yards with one TD.
Not bad for a spare part, and there were even chants of “We want Vick! We want Vick!” from his former home crowd in the fourth quarter, after his satisfying day was done.
Vick said of the fans cheers for him, “It was as loud as it gets in the Dome, I heard the chants all through the stadium and it sent chills down my spine. They were just letting me know that people still appreciate what I’ve done.”
It was easy to see the pure joy that Vick felt playing back in the ATL.
After the game, Eagles' starter McNabb said of Vick’s fine performance in his return, “You were seeing a guy in his element. I think he was just relishing the moment.”
After spending a larger amount of time giving on-field interviews and reflecting, Vick, in his post-game press conference, said, “It couldn’t have happened at a better time, I want to become one of the top quarterbacks in this league again.”
Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA).Posted in 2009 NFL Season, 2009 NFL Week 13, Atlanta Falcons, Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles Tagged: 2009 NFL Season, 2009 NFL Week 13, Atlanta Falcons, Football, Michael Vick, NFL, Philadelphia Eagles, Sports, Vick Returns to Atlanta