Atlanta (9-2) at Tampa Bay (4-7)

Light Rain Currently: Tampa, FL
Temp: 78° F
  • Game info: 1:00 pm EST Sun Dec 5, 2004
  • TV: FOX
Preview | Box Score | Recap

Michael Vick is on the verge of running the Atlanta Falcons right into their first division crown in six years.

Vick looks to lead the Falcons to their fifth straight win and the NFC South title as they visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

A win or tie against the Bucs will clinch the division for Atlanta following a 5-11 record in 2003, when Vick missed the first 11 games with a broken leg.

The team’s last division title in 1998 came as part of the old NFC West. The Falcons went a franchise-record 14-2 that season and lost to Denver 34-19 in Super Bowl XXXIII.

If the Falcons win the division and finish with at least the second-best record in the conference—everyone except Philadelphia is at least two games behind Atlanta—they’ll get a first-round bye and play at home in the next round.

The 24-year-old Vick has already won on a big playoff stage, leading the Falcons to a 27-7 win over Green Bay in a 2002 wild card game—the Packers’ first ever postseason loss at Lambeau Field.

He once again put all his talents on display in a 24-21 win over New Orleans on Sunday. Vick capped an impressive day by evading several tackles before throwing a 20-yard touchdown pass to tight end Alge Crumpler with 1:22 remaining for the win.

He had a hand in all three Atlanta touchdowns, passing for two while completing 16-of-29 attempts for 212 yards and running 16 yards for another score. He led the team with 69 rushing yards on 10 carries.

“I always feel like we’re going to score a touchdown,” said Vick, leading all quarterbacks with 709 rushing yards and the entire NFL with 7.2 yards per carry. “I have confidence I can do almost anything when I step out there.”

Vick appears to be turning it on at just the right time.

During the win streak, he has thrown for 726 yards—an average of only 181.5 per game—but has five touchdown passes against two interceptions after throwing for four touchdowns and being intercepted six times in Atlanta’s first seven games.

Most impressive is his 361 rushing yards, including two 100-yard games, over the last four—which has been the biggest factor in helping the Falcons gain an NFL-leading 162.6 rushing yards per contest.

“The Falcons have a secret weapon over there who is the league’s worst-kept secret,” Saints cornerback Mike McKenzie said. “He’s from another world.”

Atlanta’s defense has rebounded nicely from an embarrassing 56-10 loss to Kansas City on Oct. 24, when it allowed an NFL-record eight rushing touchdowns. The Falcons have since given up an average of 18.3 points and allowed just one rushing score.

“We’re for real,” said Crumpler, who leads the team in receptions (43), receiving yards (709) and touchdown catches (6) and was rewarded Saturday with a six-year contract extension worth about $26 million.

The Bucs have lost two of three, including a 24-14 defeat to the Falcons on Nov. 14, but both defeats have come on the road. Tampa Bay, which is 4-3 since an 0-4 start, has won three straight at home.

Martin Gramatica missed all three of his field goal attempts Sunday as the Bucs lost 21-14 to defending NFC champion Carolina. The struggling kicker, who missed seven of his last nine attempts and was 11-for-19 in 2004, was released on Tuesday.

Gramatica missed the potential go-ahead field goal with 1:48 to play when he was wide left on a 37-yarder. He also missed from 39 yards and had another attempt blocked by Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers.

Jake Delhomme marched Carolina straight down the field after the late miss and threw a 40-yard touchdown pass with 20 seconds to play to rally the Panthers.

Gramatica’s problems ruined strong performances by Brian Griese and Michael Pittman. Griese threw for a season-high 347 yards and two touchdowns to Pittman, who had eight catches for 134 yards.

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