ATLANTA (AP)—Michael Vick sat on the Georgia Dome turf, looking around in disbelief while the boos came at him from all directions.
He lost the ball, his helmet—and the game.
For the second week in a row, the Falcons (5-4) lost to one of the NFL’s worst teams. Again, Vick took the brunt of the blame, turning a once-promising season into an increasingly desperate situation—especially with a rash of injuries on defense.
“I take sole responsibility on the offensive side,” he said, shaking his head. “It hurts.”
Atlanta was coming off a 30-14 loss at Detroit, only the second win of the year for the Lions. The Browns (3-6) had dropped three of four before they knocked off the Falcons in front of 70,000 stunned fans at the Georgia Dome.
Vick completed only 16 of 40 passes for 197 yards, but had the Falcons in position to pull off a comeback with a 55-yard pass to Roddy White, who made a tumbling catch at the Cleveland 17.
The Falcons quarterback took off running on the next play, appearing to get another first down, but a holding penalty on Eric Beverly negated the play.
“That right there determined the outcome of the game,” Vick said. “We could have been on the 5-yard line.”
Instead, he faced second-and-20. Vick tried to run again on a draw up the middle, but the Browns sensed what was coming and forced him outside.
Vick began stumbling after cutting to his left and the ball, dangling loosely in his left hand, struck his knee and came loose. Jereme Perry, who was burned on White’s long catch, swooped in to make the recovery while another Browns player knocked off Vick’s helmet in the pile up.
“What can you say? I was trying to make a play,” Vick said. “If you want to say it was my fault, go ahead and say it, but I know what I feel inside and I know what I know. It never should have come to that point.”
After playing brilliantly in wins over Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, the mercurial Vick has cost the Falcons dearly with sloppy plays the last two weeks. He also had two interceptions and a fumble against Detroit, setting up a couple of touchdowns.
This time, Vick’s first interception was followed by a Cleveland touchdown, and his second was picked off just short of the end zone when he underthrew Alge Crumpler on a fourth-down pass. Then came the fumble on a play that appeared doomed from the start.
Vick actually lined up behind an offensive guard, scrambling into the right spot only after center Todd McClure noticed that the quarterback wasn’t behind him. It only got worse from there.
“It would be ridiculous for me to stand here and criticize Mike for dropping the ball when it hit off his leg when he’s made so many tremendous plays with the ball in his hand like that,” coach Jim Mora said.
Vick wasn’t helped by his receivers, who dropped at least four passes— including a probable touchdown that grazed the fingertips of Ashley Lelie.
Cleveland jumped ahead 14-0 against the Falcons, who were missing three starters on defense and lost end Patrick Kerney to a chest injury in the first half.
The Browns played without injured cornerback Leigh Bodden, but the Falcons couldn’t take advantage in the passing game. They didn’t show much commitment to the league’s best rushing attack, either, finishing with 149 yards on 29 carries.
Meanwhile, embattled Cleveland quarterback Charlie Frye had a solid performance, completing 16 of 22 passes for 165 yards. For the first time all season, he didn’t throw an interception.
“I hope it’s the first of many,” Frye said. “I was trying not to force the ball and cut down on the interceptions.
Cleveland jumped ahead late in the first quarter when Reuben Droughns powered over from the 1 on fourth down. Frye set up the touchdown with a 40-yard pass to Kellen Winslow, who badly burned Allen Rossum, the fill-in for injured cornerback Jason Webster.
After Sean Jones made a diving interception on Vick, the Browns quickly drove for another TD. Frye completed three straight passes, the last of them a 19-yard score to Braylon Edwards, who found himself wide open in the middle of a zone defense that broke down.
“Charlie did a wonderful job today,” Droughns said. “If he keeps making plays like he did today, he’s going to be a good quarterback.”
Atlanta scored its only TD after being denied what appeared to be a safety against Frye. The officials ruled him down inside the 1 and upheld the call after reviewing the replay. But Rossum returned the ensuing punt 37 yards, setting up Vick’s 12-yard touchdown pass to Michael Jenkins.
Steve Heiden partially blocked a punt by Atlanta late in the first half, but Droughns fumbled two plays later. … The half ended with a wild play. Frye fumbled, the Falcons recovered near midfield and pulled off two laterals before DeAngelo Hall was finally shoved out of bounds at the Cleveland 17 with no time left.