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Ryan gets chance to restore order vs. Vick

Michael Silver
Yahoo Sports

The last time Michael Vick(notes) lit up the Georgia Dome, Arthur Blank's owner's box was a dark and dejected place.

Vick, the Atlanta Falcons' former franchise quarterback and fallen star, returned to his old stomping grounds in December of 2009 as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles. At the time, he was trying to salvage his career after 23 months of incarceration for his role in a dog-fighting scandal. The Eagles were crushing the Falcons 27-0 early in the fourth quarter, and Vick, who had already run for a third-quarter touchdown, replaced starter Donovan McNabb(notes) to the delight of thousands of fans – many of them wearing replicas of Vick's old Falcons jersey – who'd been chanting his name.

In what Blank would come to view as a gratuitous gesture of disrespect by Philly coach Andy Reid, Vick wowed the crowd with a 43-yard pass to wideout Reggie Brown(notes), followed by a 5-yard scoring toss to tight end Brent Celek(notes), his first touchdown pass since 2006 in an eventual 34-7 victory. With tens of thousands of frustrated customers already having bolted, the Dome was dominated by jubilant Vick supporters, and Blank could only sit and seethe.

Talk about a Blank stare.

Worst of all, Matt Ryan(notes), the young quarterback drafted to succeed Vick, was equally powerless to respond. He was standing on the sidelines in civilian clothes, having been deactivated because of a turf toe injury.

Twenty-one long months later, Ryan is finally in position to restore order – and to reaffirm his owner's immense faith in his abilities. When the Dream Team returns to the Dome on Sunday night, with Vick now large and in charge, many of those same fans will join a national television audience in recalling Blank's nightmare.

The focus will be on Vick, a man in the midst of one of the more remarkable revivals the sports world has seen. I expect him to be his effective, electrifying self, and his teammates to feed off his energy.

The real story, however, is Ryan. The time has come for Matty Ice to rise up and assert his manhood, and the best way to do that is to stare down the Ghost of Touchdown Celebrations Past.

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I saw Steve Young go through this against Joe Montana in 1994, and I was there when Aaron Rodgers(notes) took on Brett Favre(notes) on that surreal day at Lambeau Field two years ago. In each case, the younger quarterback lost the game to his predecessor, but I believe the experiences helped steel Young and Rodgers for eventual Super Bowl glory.

So Ryan doesn't necessarily have to win Sunday's standoff, but he does have to summon a tough, cool, confident effort of which his owner, teammates and fans can be proud.

That said, it would really, really be better for him if he could do both of those things, particularly the part about winning.

The evidence suggests that Ryan has it in him. My man crush on Matty Ice is well-documented, and I know I'm not alone.

Installed as the starter immediately after the Falcons took him with the third overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft, Ryan was shockingly poised and proficient as a rookie, leading Atlanta to the playoffs in the process. After the team stumbled to a 9-7 record in '09, Ryan elevated his game last season, guiding the Falcons to a 13-3 record and earning his first Pro Bowl selection.

Despite all that, Ryan and the Falcons come into this game on a negative note. Their locker room is filled with exasperation, and their performance last Sunday should contain a whiff of desperation.

Like Ryan, the Falcons are a team trying to make the difficult jump from very good to elite. And Atlanta's last two games have represented major setbacks for everyone concerned.

Ryan was hardly the sole reason the Falcons got pulverized by the Packers in the playoffs last January, but he didn't play well in Atlanta's 48-21 defeat at the Dome. His performance included three turnovers, including an ill-advised sideline pass just before halftime that Green Bay's Tramon Williams(notes) intercepted and returned 70 yards for a game-altering touchdown.

The Falcons entered this season as a trendy Super Bowl pick (though, to be fair, not as trendy as the Eagles), especially after general manager Thomas Dimitroff's bold, draft-day trade for talented wideout Julio Jones(notes), a move designed to give Ryan another explosive option.

Though the Bears played in last season's NFC championship game, Atlanta went into the season opener in Chicago as a favorite – and left as a beaten, bewildered team.

The Bears' 30-12 triumph was the most lopsided regular-season defeat of Ryan's tenure, and the quarterback had another rough outing, throwing an early interception to Chicago linebacker Brian Urlacher(notes) that led to a Bears touchdown and later coughing up a fumble that Urlacher returned for a game-clinching score.

Not only would losing to the Eagles reverberate with symbolic ramifications, but it would also put the Falcons in a 0-2 hole in a highly competitive division. That's why Ryan has to step up and bring his "A" game – and his teammates need to do their part by acing this test as well.

I would argue that Ryan's teammates have even more of an obligation to step it up than he does. If Ryan's the man who'll lead them to the promised land, the best thing they can do for their young quarterback is to help him put Vick's Falcons legacy to rest.

There may be some players on the Atlanta roster who enjoyed playing with Vick, like him as a person and/or are captivated by his comeback. That's all good – but when the lights go down, it would behoove them to expend every ounce of energy in their beings to try to make his night as miserable as possible.

The Falcons' internal tally counted 17 missed tackles against the Bears. On Matt Forte's(notes) 56-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown, he bounced off a shoulder shot from linebacker Sean Weatherspoon(notes), causing coach Mike Smith to throw a sideline tantrum. Later, Devin Hester(notes) caught a screen pass and raced to a 53-yard gain on which cornerback Dunta Robinson(notes) slipped and safety William Moore(notes) and linebacker Curtis Lofton(notes) took bad angles.

The defense has to get it together. Everyone had better be better. What's best for Ryan is what's best for the Falcons, and this is a moment he needs to seize.

Ryan, a native of nearby Exton, Pa., absorbed a 31-17 thrashing from Kevin Kolb(notes) and the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field with Vick sidelined by a rib injury last October.

The aura of invincibility Ryan once enjoyed at home has been compromised: After winning 19 of his first 20 starts at the Georgia Dome, the quarterback has lost two of his last three.

Now he faces a quarterback who remains oddly revered by a not-insignificant sector of his former fan base, even as Vick publicly tries to downplay any lingering connection.

"No, that's not my house," Vick told Atlanta reporters earlier this week, in reference to the Georgia Dome. "That's Matt Ryan's house. I'm just a visitor."

The last time Vick visited, he trotted off the field with both arms raised, blowing kisses in all directions, as thousands of fans chanted his name. I can only imagine how nauseated Blank was by such a scene.

Blank, the man who anointed Vick as the face of the franchise, paid him handsomely and enabled his excesses – even pushing the injured quarterback around the Georgia Dome turf in a wheelchair before a game, causing some of the owner's peers to cringe at the indignity – doesn't want to see that guy celebrated by his paying customers.

[Related: DeSean Jackson reportedly has insurance policy for this season]

Reid's decision to showcase Vick in that setting still strikes me as curious. Imagine if the Cowboys, just after signing Terrell Owens(notes), had gone into Philly and made a point of getting the reviled receiver a garbage-time touchdown in a triumphant return to The Linc. I'm fairly certain that wouldn't have gone over well, and I'm confident Blank would agree with that analogy.

I believe Blank sincerely likes Vick and appreciates the quarterback's efforts to turn his life around, but given Vick's subsequent admissions that his dedication was lacking during his time in Atlanta – that he was "lazy" – how can the guy who was shelling out millions not feel burned?

Put another way: If anyone in a Falcons uniform doesn't believe this game is personal, he should understand that it is very personal for the man who signs the checks.

For that reason alone, I expect everyone on the home team to do everything in his power to ensure that by the end of Sunday night's game, Arthur Blank's house is, indisputably, Matt Ryan's house.

The time has come for the Falcons to slam the door on the dude who used to live there, or at least die trying.

TAKE IT TO THE ATM

Led by Josh Freeman(notes), the Buccaneers will bounce back from last Sunday's disappointing debut and defeat the Vikings at the Metrodome. … The Bills will summon another impressive performance, but the Raiders will prevail in a tight game in Buffalo. My AFC Super Bowl pick (the Patriots) will defeat my old friend and former SI colleague Peter King's AFC Super Bowl pick (the Chargers) decisively at Gillette Stadium.

PLEASE, BOSS, SEND ME TO …

Atlanta, where the players play – and this writer ain't filin' 'til eight in the morning.

LIES, LIES, LIES

1. When asked by a reporter if she would keep the White House basketball court commissioned by President Obama if she were to be elected to the nation's highest office, Sarah Palin replied, "It's a slam dunk!"

2. Tom Brady(notes) will parlay his "start drinking" admonition to Pats fans into a deal to pitch Dos Equis as The Second Most Interesting Man In The World.

3. Upon learning that Dolphins receiver Brandon Marshall(notes) had referred to his quarterback as "White Vick," Vikings receiver Percy Harvin(notes) began addressing Donovan McNabb as "Black Henne."

WORLD'S SIMPLEST POOL

My sadistic instincts were dead-on in Week 1, as the Peyton Manning(notes)-less Colts got pounded by the Texans 34-7. Now I'll switch things up and go with the Steelers, a team that got humiliated last Sunday, to take out their frustrations on the Seahawks and Seattle's overmatched offensive line at Heinz Field. By the time Pittsburgh's pass rushers are through with Tarvaris Jackson(notes), he'll be wishing Brett Favre would show up and replace him.

Remember, you can find all of my picks here – and receive the justifications behind them each Friday by registering at ridewithsilver.com. And here are my locks of the week, along with those of former Titans star Eddie George and former Stanford Daily blind-side protector Jason Cole.

OXYGEN-DEPRIVED THOUGHT FROM ABOVE

If you ever doubted that our technological norms have evolved at an exponentially dizzying pace, consider the media auditorium in the bowels of Lambeau Field, where the Packers conduct most of their media sessions. Less than six years ago, then-Green Bay coach Mike Sherman caused a stir by storming out of an interview session because a reporter's cell phone rang. Last week, shortly after the Packers' season-opening victory over the Saints, I walked into the same room to watch Aaron Rodgers answer questions and saw the following sign near the podium: "Notice: Room conversations may be carried live over the Internet." Alrighty then …

FANTASY ANNOYANCE OF THE WEEK

"I got the highest score of the week, and I didn't even have Tom Brady," my buddy Malibu exclaimed into the phone on Thursday. "And I owe it all to you, buddy!" Ah, the joys of sarcasm. Against my better judgment, Malibu drafted Chargers running back Mike Tolbert(notes), started him last week and sat back and enjoyed a three-TD performance. Stunningly, as Sabbath Bloody Sabbath heads into this week's matchup with Gravity Rebels, Malibu is still listening to my advice: I had him start Falcons rookie Julio Jones ahead of Devin Hester (as you might have surmised by now, I'm expecting fireworks at the Dome Sunday night) and claim Lions kicker Jason Hanson(notes) to replace the injured Nate Kaeding(notes).

Meanwhile, Cal women's basketball coach Lindsay Gottlieb is also 1-0, as Bringin' It Back defeated I'm Back! (evoking images of Canadian Football League matchups of yore between the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Ottawa Rough Riders) by eight points on the strength of Ted Ginn and his family – the Niners' defense and special teams scored 24 of her 99 points. Now, naturally, I'm advising her to drop S.F. like it's hot for this week's matchup against I Am Holmes Antonio, as I fear the Cowboys will put it on the Niners this week; instead, she's going with the Giants' D against the Rams on Monday night. Continuing the Julio Jones theme, I advised her to start the kid ahead of Plaxico Burress(notes), and I somehow talked her into riding with Matty Ice for another week, even though backup Kevin Kolb outscored him, 22-9, last Sunday. Yes, I am all in on the Falcons ‐ and if my instincts are correct, Gottlieb will have plenty of swag when all is said and done. Then again, she and her assistants are already pretty stocked in that department.

LET'S DO SOME DON JULIO SILVER SHOTS FOR …

Lavoyda Lenard, who passed away Monday at the age of 51. Those of us who had the pleasure of meeting Lenard know that the blunt, spirited and hilarious conversational style I associate with her son, Brian Urlacher (and his younger brother, Casey), was among the many gifts she left. Please join me in offering thoughts and prayers to the family. And with the Patriots preparing to pass out 70,000 lapel pins honoring Myra Kraft at Gillette Stadium Sunday, my thoughts and prayers are with that grieving family as well.

THIS WEEK'S PROOF THAT CAL IS THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE

Haas Pavilion was rocking Tuesday night as 3,854 fans watched the nation's top two women's volleyball teams throw down, with No. 1 Cal (11-0) rolling to a 23-25, 25-16, 25-16, 25-21 victory over No. 2 Stanford. Junior setter Elly Barrett led the way for the Bears with 41 assists and 17 digs, with senior outside hitter Tarah Murrey (15 kills, 12 digs) and junior libero Robin Rostratter (29 digs) also playing starring roles.

After four victories over top-20 opponents, Cal's undefeated field hockey team finally got the ranking it deserved, checking in at No. 11 – the Bears' highest ranking since the National Field Hockey Coaches Association poll began in 1998. Shellie Onstead's well-rounded team, with standouts such as sophomores Andrea Earle and Jordan O'Reilly and seniors Megan Shimojima and Maddie Hand, now embarks upon a three-game road trip against Northwestern, No. 18 Virginia and Kent State.

Coming off a thrilling, 36-33 overtime victory at Colorado, keyed by a pair of dramatic connections from quarterback Zach Maynard to his half-brother, Keenan Allen, Cal will look to run its record to 3-0 in its home opener Saturday against Presbyterian (yeah, I know). With Memorial Stadium being renovated, the Bears are playing their home games at AT&T Park, meaning more than 40 of Cal's esteemed water polo alums will be staging a bone-chilling game-before-the-game in McCovey Cove. Two words for spectators: Shrinkage alert. Alas, Kirk Everist's second-ranked Bears won't participate, as they have a tournament to win in Stockton.

YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK

willow cat Colorado

LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK

Imagine Sunday's Ryan-Vick throwdown as a classic hip-hop feud, with Matty Ice and MC MV taking turns spitting, flossing and dissing. Now pretend they have as much game as Jermaine Dupri and Ludacris – and that you could stomach a "Welcome To Atlanta" remix in 2011.

(Matty Ice)
Yeah
Welcome to Atlanta, makin' all the fat throws
Hittin' The Burner Mike Turner up close, Julio Jones rockin' a fro
Now runnin' a go, who is it? I would happen to know
The one who's All-Pro – who caught it? Was Roddy I suppose
MV comin' home and Ice is gonna wreck that scene
Soon as Sam Jackson comes on the screen
I hit the seam, even if Gonzalez is double-teamed
No mud on the sneaks, gotta keep it so my kicks is clean
I reign supreme, over your football team
I'm allergic to overhyped teams with dreams
Tweet tweet, bird bird, Eagles whaddaya think?
By Monday morning I'll make your species extinct
Did you forget I am The Man and my arm's a cannon?
Matty Ice very nice but your arm's Rich Gannon's
The top pit bull in Georgia – you heard what I said
I won't stop until I'm rich as my cheeks are red
I roll up in the black throwback, your 7 is whack
So I ripped it off the wall
Now it's time for 2 to drop his big black eight balls,
You're crackin' us up
You're past tense like Bartkowski, Jeff George and stuff
In fact I'm roughin' you up, then I'm callin' your bluff
Gonna lose to No. 2, Vick that's what's up
Comin' to the Dome? Good luck
Go back to school like Andrew Luck
Hair thin-thin-thin-thin-in' Win-in-in-in-in-in', what?

(MC MV)
Yo, yo, y-y-yo, yo, yo
Y-y-yo yo, yo-yo-yo
Yo yo-yo-yo, yo-yo, yo
Y-yo, yo, yo-yo-yo-yo-yo yo

(MC MV)
Welcome to Atlanta where the players play
And we scorin' TDs like every way
Fade routes, deep outs, see safeties chasin'
And after the game we're gon' be embracin'

(Matty Ice)
Welcome to Atlanta where the players play
And we scorin' TDs like every way
Fade routes, deep outs, see safeties chasin'
And after the game we're gon' be embracin'

(MC MV)
Yo, uhh
Now the party don't start 'til I walk in
And I usually don't leave until my team wins
But in the meantime, it's pregame hype time
You work yo' thing, I'll work mine
Been puttin it down here since 2001
Since the real Jamal Anderson
When Ray Buchanan was the best DB
If you was runnin', you was runnin' into Keith Brooking(notes)
I'm the M.V.P, Mike Vick-enist Player
Runnin' the town, Ice, call me the mayor
First-and-10, take off and run
Second down, I'm flippin' it to DeSean, ready to stun
Third down, I hit Maclin in stride
Touchdown, my town, then I lay on my side
Wheelchair, Arthur, yo gimme a ride
Right on the field cause the man has no pride
If she was alive Left Eye would be my bride
I'm gonna fight like Rison and Prime
Sunday, I'm gonna have you weepin'
Come playoff time gonna do it again, holla!

(MC MV)
Yo, yo, y-y-yo, yo, yo
Y-y-yo yo, yo-yo-yo
Yo yo-yo-yo, yo-yo, yo
Y-yo, yo, yo-yo-yo-yo-yo yo

(MC MV)
Welcome to Atlanta where the players play
And we scorin' TDs like every way
Fade routes, deep outs, see safeties chasin'
And after the game we're gon' be embracin'

(Matty Ice)
Welcome to Atlanta where the players play
And we scorin' TDs like every way
Fade routes, deep outs, see safeties chasin'
And after the game we're gon' be embracin'…

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