ATLANTA (AP)—Michael Vick gave the Falcons the shot in the arm they needed. Then Atlanta’s immediate future took a shot to the ribs.
Vick ran for two touchdowns and passed for another score Monday night to lead the Falcons over the New Orleans Saints 36-17. But a late hit knocked Vick to the turf and out of the game in the fourth quarter.
The NFL’s most electric runner writhed in pain and seemed to be favoring his back. The injury was announced as bruised ribs, and Coach Jim Mora appeared confident that his quarterback would be ready for Sunday’s game at Chicago.
“Mike doesn’t miss games,” Mora said. “He’ll do whatever it takes to get ready to go.”
Vick was the difference as the Falcons bounced back after losing three of four games to fall behind in the NFC playoff picture.
Atlanta improved to 3-0 in Monday night games this season and Vick remained a perfect 5-0 against the Saints (3-10), who have lost eight of their last nine games. Vick had scoring runs of 2 and 17 yards, and he threw a 54-yard touchdown pass to rookie Roddy White on a flea-flicker play.
A vicious late hit from linebacker Ronald McKinnon, who drew a roughing-the-passer penalty, knocked Vick to the turf and he was slow to get up. Vick stayed in for two more plays, but the pain was too much—he called a timeout with 9:21 left, slowly walked off the field and was escorted to the locker room.
“I landed with a guy’s foot right on my ribs,” Vick said. “Then I aggravated it when I took one more hit.”
Added Vick: “Hopefully I’ll be able to play this Sunday. … I’m confident. I’m always confident. I’ve just got to get my treatment.”
The Falcons (8-5) still are behind in the playoff race. They would lose NFC tiebreakers with two other 8-5 teams, Dallas and Minnesota. Atlanta has games remaining against Chicago, Tampa Bay and Carolina—all playoff-caliber teams.
“Well, we’re in a fight, we’re in a dogfight,” Mora said. “We’ll take it. It’s better to be in a fight than not be.”
Vick was 12-of-23 for 231 yards with a touchdown and an interception and rushed for 38 yards in his fourth career game with two scores on the ground. Alge Crumpler caught three passes for 94 yards.
Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who seems to thrive in Monday night games, provided the first big play of the game when he stripped the ball from receiver Joe Horn following a third-down catch for first-down yardage in the first quarter.
Hall pulled the ball loose before Horn hit the ground and returned it 20 yards to the Saints 12, setting up a 1-yard touchdown run by T.J. Duckett.
Hall had interceptions in each of Atlanta’s first two Monday night games this season. He had another apparent interception return for a touchdown wiped out by a roughing-the-passer penalty against linebacker Demorrio Williams late in the first half.
With Atlanta leading 7-3 following John Carney’s 47-yard field goal, the Saints evened the turnover count at 1-1 when Will Smith deflected Vick’s pass and Jason Craft returned the interception 19 yards to the 6. On first down, Smith bulled through the line for a touchdown and a 10-7 Saints lead.
Vick gave the lead back to Atlanta with his 2-yard dive for the pylon, capping a drive that included a 36-yard pass to Brian Finneran.
On third-and-goal from the 2, Vick scrambled to his left and appeared to be pushed out of bounds near the 1. The officials spotted the ball at the 1, but Mora called for the review.
“Because Mike Vick told me to,” Mora said. “He said ‘Challenge it, we’ll win it.’ You listen to what No. 7 says.”
The run was ruled a touchdown after replays showed Vick kept his leg in bounds as his body flew over the pylon, the ball in his hands.
“It is hard to defend the quarterback,” said Saints coach Jim Haslett. “He does a great job. He made a nice play. I guess his hand touched the pylon. I thought the ball was outside the pylon, but if any part of your body touches the pylon it is a touchdown.”
Vick went to the air—with a little trickery from Mora’s playbook—for the Falcons’ next touchdown.
Late in the second quarter, Vick lined up as a wideout as Warrick Dunn took the snap and then pitched the ball to the quarterback. Vick, under pressure from defensive end Tony Bryant, waited for White to get open and then heaved the ball downfield.
The Falcons’ 21-10 lead lasted barely a minute as the Saints answered with a nine-play, 90-yard touchdown drive capped by Brooks’ 9-yard pass to Az-Zahir Hakim.
Vick and the Falcons stretched the lead in the third quarter with another quick-strike touchdown. On first down from the 17, Vick faked a handoff to Dunn to his left and then took off on a run to the right, fooling most of the Saints. Vick high-stepped over the pylon, and this time no review was needed for the touchdown call and a 28-17 lead.
Atlanta’s defense contributed a safety with 40 seconds left in the third quarter, pushing the lead to 30-17. One play after rookie Darrell Shropshire sacked Brooks at the 4 for a loss of six yards, Antwan Lake dropped Brooks in the end zone for the safety.
After Vick left the game, Peterson kicked a 43-yard field goal.
Matt Schaub’s 48-yard pass to Crumpler set up a 20-yard field goal with 3:01 left to play.