A year later, Michael Vick’s health is still a concern.
The dazzling quarterback led the Falcons to the second round of the playoffs two years ago, but broke his leg in the preseason last year and Atlanta went on to finish a dreadful 5-11.
This season, Vick took only 24 snaps in the exhibition games because of a sore right hamstring. It’s hardly the ideal preparation for a new offense under new coach Jim Mora.
After missing Vick for most of the last season, the Falcons want to make sure the NFL’s most dynamic quarterback is healthy for the regular season.
“It’s a bit of fear,” Vick said. “But the thing I’m trying to do is just forget about it and get my treatment, get rehabilitated as much as I can and try to build it back up and make sure that, whenever I do take off running and decide to sprint, it’s not a question in my mind. I know it’s going to be tough, but when I get out there, I’ve just got to let it all go all out.”
Dan Reeves was fired after Atlanta finished its 28th losing season in 38 years. Mora, San Francisco’s defensive coordinator last season has brought in several well-known assistants, including offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, offensive line coach Alex Gibbs and defensive coordinator Ed Donatell.
“We have so much to be excited about,” Falcons owner Arthur Blank said. “Our fans are wonderful. We have a young, energetic coaching staff. Our front office is coming off what appears to be a strong draft. We have some fine talent on our team and arguably the NFL’s most exciting player in Michael Vick.”
However, Mora’s first preseason was more troubling than hopeful.
When he did play, Vick struggled in the West Coast offense. First-round pick DeAngelo Hall, set to start at left cornerback, fractured his hip and could miss up to 10 weeks. Alge Crumpler, Peerless Price, Warrick Dunn and Keith Brooking are bothered by nagging injuries heading into Sunday’s game.
San Francisco, which went 7-9 last season, got rid of starters at quarterback, running back and two receiver positions. The replacements are youngsters with little pro experience.
Wide receiver Terrell Owens was traded to Baltimore in March, then dealt to Philadelphia in a three-team swap.
Owens, a four-time Pro Bowler, developed into a major distraction in eight seasons in San Francisco. He questioned coaches’ decisions and ripped his teammates.
“There is only one other person who can do what T.O. does and he plays for Minnesota,” receiver Brandon Lloyd said, referring to Vikings star Randy Moss. “You kind of get spoiled as a fan by having T.O. on your team because he makes such spectacular plays.
“It’s time to play football now. We can play as a team and not have to depend on one player to put up points or numbers. We can all contribute.”
Lloyd, along with Cedrick Wilson, are promising young receivers who will try to fill the void left by Owens.
Tim Rattay, projected to be the starting quarterback in place of the departed Jeff Garcia, had limited time to prepare after missing most of training camp with a sore forearm. Rattay was 7-for-10 for 51 yards, and went three-and-out on three of his four series in the 49ers’ preseason finale.
San Francisco’s defense will have to come together quickly after missing its best player for most of the preseason. All-Pro linebacker Julian Peterson ended his monthlong holdout Aug. 25 and signed a one-year contract. After holding out, Peterson is far behind the learning curve on new defensive coordinator Willy Robinson’s schemes.
2003 STANDINGS: Falcons - 4th place, NFC South. 49ers - 3rd place, NFC West.
FALCONS LEADERS: Offense - Vick, 585 passing yards and 4 passing TDs; T.J. Duckett, 779 rushing yards and 11 rushing TDs; Price, 64 receptions and 838 receiving yards; Crumpler and Price, 3 receiving TDs. Defense - Brooking, 126 tackles; Ellis Johnson, 8 sacks; Juran Bolden, Keion Carpenter and Tod McBride, 3 INTs.
49ERS LEADERS: Offense - Rattay, 856 passing yards and 7 passing TDs; Barlow, 1,024 rushing yards and 6 rushing TDs; Wilson, 30 receptions and 346 receiving yards; Lloyd, 2 receiving TDs. Defense - Derek Smith, 87 tackles; Peterson, 7 sacks; Tony Parrish, 9 INTs.
2003 FALCONS TEAM RANK: Rushing Offense - 121.8 yards per game (14th in NFL); Passing Offense - 150.5 ypg (31st); Total Offense - 272.3 ypg (29th). Rushing Defense - 144.2 ypg (29th); Passing Defense - 237.5 ypg (32nd); Total Defense - 381.8 ypg (32nd).
2003 49ERS TEAM RANK: Rushing Offense - 142.4 yards per game (5th); Passing Offense - 213 ypg (10th); Total Offense - 355.4 ypg (5th). Rushing Defense - 105.6 ypg (9th); Passing Defense - 202.4 ypg (17th); Total Defense - 308 ypg (13th).
LAST MEETING: Oct. 14, 2001; 49ers, 37-31 (overtime). At Atlanta, Garcia threw three touchdown passes to Owens.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Falcons - QB Vick is averaging 6.8 yards per pass and 7.3 yards per rush in his career. … WR Price has a reception in 71 straight games. … Rod Coleman leads all NFL defensive tackles with 16.5 sacks over the past two seasons. 49ers - San Francisco hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in 19 straight home games. … San Francisco has scored in an NFL record 418 straight games. … San Francisco was tied for first in the NFL last season with a plus-11 turnover differential.
2003 ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Falcons - 3-5 on the road; 49ers - 6-2 at home.
INJURIES: Falcons - OUT: LB Jamie Duncan (pectoral); CB Hall (hip); DE Karon Riley (groin). PROBABLE: LB Keith Brooking (hamstring). 49ers - OUT: DE Andrew Williams (shin - lower leg fracture). DOUBTFUL: RB Fred Beasley (ankle); S Dwaine Carpenter (knee); TE Kevin Ware (quadricep). QUESTIONABLE: DE Brandon Whiting (back/shoulder). PROBABLE: S Ronnie Heard (Achilles); RB Jasen Isom (knee); C Jeremy Newberry (knee).