Tale of two QBs

Jason Cole

ATLANTA – New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees continued his salute to childhood hero Ted Williams, the profane-but-intellectual baseball great whose No. 9 Brees wears as appreciation.

By contrast, Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick's most notable moment Sunday was a profane salute to his home fans during the Saints' 31-13 victory.

Brees posted his fifth consecutive 300-yard game and added two touchdown passes as he hit big play after big play against the Falcons. That allowed New Orleans to take control of the NFC South at 7-4, a game ahead of Carolina (6-5) and two over Atlanta (5-6).

Brees began delivering the big plays early – connecting with Devery Henderson on a 76-yard touchdown pass on the opening series of the game, a play that had the Falcons wobbling on the way to a bad day. A play that also left Michael Vick making profane gestures.

The home fans started booing early and often. Vick responded by flipping them his own version of a dirty bird with each hand. Television cameras captured Vick in the act just before teammates rushed him off the field.

Vick later apologized.

"First and foremost, I would like to apologize for my inappropriate actions with fans today," Vick said in a statement released through the team. "I was frustrated and upset at how the game was going for my team, and that frustration came out the wrong way. That's not what I'm about. That's not what the Atlanta Falcons are about. I simply lost my cool in the heat of the moment. I apologize and look forward to putting this incident behind me."

However, the fans weren't the only ones to feel Vick's wrath. He was also sharply critical of his wide receivers, three of whom dropped a pass during the ugly offensive effort.

As for Brees, he and his younger brother Reid used to watch videotapes of Williams while they were growing up. The Brees boys were budding baseball stars in Texas until football captured the elder Brees' interest. Brees wears No. 9 in tribute to the Splendid Splinter.

In this, Brees' sixth season, he is capturing the hearts of Saints fans with his stellar play, which included his fifth consecutive game with more than 300 yards passing. Brees wasn't quite as prolific against Atlanta as he was during a 510-yard performance in a loss to Cincinnati last week, but he did finish with 349 yards as he completed 21 of 30 passes and had two touchdown passes.

It's the type of success that transforms quiet confidence to full-blown chutzpah. That was on display on the first big play of the game. On the third play from scrimmage, New Orleans faced third and seven from its own 24-yard line.

"They're probably thinking that we're going to play it safe and just get a first down, so it's a pretty good time to go for the long ball," Brees said. In fact, Brees and Saints coach Sean Payton had talked about the situation on Saturday night, figuring they had a good sense of what the Falcons like to do.

The moment was like watching Williams' splendid left-hand swing against a grooved fastball. Henderson, who delivered his second straight big outing in place of an injured teammate (this time rookie star Marques Colston), ran a hard post and caught Atlanta cornerback DeAngelo Hall playing soft. On top of that, Falcons safety Chris Crocker was flat-footed on the play, looking for the shorter throw.

"I pretty much knew it was there when we came to the line and saw the coverage," Brees said.

You knew it?

"Well, we had a good idea. And you know what you do if you don't get it?" Brees said, his boyish poker look leaving him momentarily. "You call it three or four times until you do."

Less than two minutes into the game, the Saints were up 7-0 and the frustration for Atlanta was palpable. The talk around Atlanta all week had centered on the frustrations that go with losing, ranging from owner Arthur Blank essentially putting coach Jim Mora on notice to Vick dealing with Mora's father, Jim Sr., calling him a "coach killer."

Getting a lead was the same as essentially putting the Falcons on the ropes.

"Especially at home," New Orleans running back Deuce McAllister said. "You heard their fans booing them."

Indeed, it didn't take long for the Atlanta fans to say they'd seen enough. Falcons kicker Morten Andersen missed a field goal on the drive after Henderson's touchdown and the Saints again capitalized for a 14-0 lead. The Falcons regrouped a bit to get within 14-6, but then the air was taken out of the inflated Georgia Dome when Brees hit Terrance Copper with a 48-yard touchdown on the last play of the first half, a standard Hail Mary that the Falcons defense botched.

"It just came down to me," Copper said. "It was just a great throw by Drew."

Great skill or great luck? Probably more of the latter, but the Saints certainly deserve their share of good fortune in the aftermath of the Hurricane Katrina-ravaged 2005 season. Even at 7-4, it often looks like the Saints are waiting for something bad to happen.

Even with an 18-point lead in the final minutes of the game, general manager Mickey Loomis was pacing impatiently in the press box, nary a smile on his face.

"Just waiting to see this one wind down," Loomis said.

Instead, the only thing that seems to be winding down is the Atlanta season. Vick again strutted his wonderful running talent. The 166 yards – which brings him to a stunning 870 yards this season – were seven short of the NFL quarterback record he set in 2002. But where he and the Falcons again came up short was in throwing the ball. Vick completed only nine of 24 passes for 84 yards, 43 of that coming on a third-quarter pass to tight end Alge Crumpler.

While Vick again had his moments of inaccuracy, he was also betrayed by his wide receivers. Ashley Lelie, Roddy White and Michael Jenkins each had big drops in the second half, White dropping a potential touchdown pass.

That only added to the frustration Vick showed at halftime. Afterward, he threw his receivers under the bus for their play.

"Somewhere along the line, guys are going to have to start catching the ball and making plays," Vick said.

Not that Vick is wrong, but it just doesn't play well in the media.

Then again, nothing the Falcons are doing is playing well these days.