Ten weeks into last season, the Atlanta Falcons had eight losses and were still waiting for Michael Vick to get healthy. One year later, they own the second-best record in the NFC and are moving closer to capturing just the third division title in franchise history.
Even more importantly, however, Vick has managed to stay on the field.
Vick and the Falcons look to continue their dramatic turnaround when they host the New Orleans Saints at the Georgia Dome.
Statistics aside, Vick produces the one thing first-year coach Jim Mora Jr. wants most from his quarterback.
“Mike wins,” Mora said after Vick improved to 20-10 as an NFL starter. “You look at his record, it’s not always pretty in terms of statistics and quarterback rating. You might need to throw those things out when you talk about Mike Vick. He just wins.”
Mora, who served as New Orleans defensive backs coach from 1992-96 and is the son of former Saints coach Jim Mora, has done a masterful job of reviving a team that finished 5-11 last season. But he refuses to acknowledge the Falcons’ comfortable position in the standings—four games ahead of Tampa Bay and the Saints with six to play.
“I don’t believe there’s anyone in this organization who feels like we’ve accomplished a dang thing,” Mora said.
“We have not assured ourselves a playoff berth. We have not wrapped up the division. We have not gotten ourselves a first-round bye. We have not gotten ourselves a home game. We have not gotten home-field advantage. All we’ve done is win enough games to be in first place with six to go.”
Atlanta linebacker Chris Draft is also wary of letting down, especially with New Orleans coming to town.
“Atlanta-New Orleans has been a rivalry for a long time,” Draft said. “What we have to do is basically take all the life away from them. Just let them know that they’re just not going to win.”
Having Vick in the starting lineup should help.
Two years ago, Vick led the Falcons to an NFC wild-card berth, beating the Saints twice along the way. Last season, New Orleans returned the favor, beating the Vick-less Falcons in both meetings.
After a 34-13 loss to Denver last week, the Saints are more focused on a wild-card berth than trying to catch the Falcons.
“There’s an opportunity for us, but it’s going to be tough,” New Orleans quarterback Aaron Brooks said. “We would have to run the table and receive some help along the way.”
Saints owner Tom Benson wasn’t quite as optimistic after the Saints’ fifth loss in seven games.
“It’s the worst performance I’ve seen by them in the 20 years that I’ve owned them,” Benson said. “They looked just like high school kids.”