BALTIMORE – Quarterback Michael Vick left the field at M&T Bank Stadium in an oddly happy mood after the Atlanta Falcons dropped their third straight game and fell to 5-5 Sunday. If one of the NFL's most talented athletes was frustrated, he had a funny way of showing it.
Vick smiled jovially as he hugged teammates and opponents. Somewhere in Vick's mind, it seemed, there was nothing more he could have done to avoid the 24-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Vick, who completed 11 of 21 passes for 127 yards and rushed for a team-high 54, confirmed that after the game when he turned his smiles into a frown for the media.
"I can't do it all myself," Vick said when asked about one of several plays that went awry in the second half. During the final 30 minutes, the Falcons went from being up 7-0 to essentially being blown out by the Ravens (8-2) and quarterback Steve McNair, who closed within one game of Indianapolis for the best record in the NFL.
Of course, Vick is right: He can't do it all. But as he goes through his sixth season in the NFL, there is a lingering question: Can he deliver on a consistent basis?
Vick, who never has strung together four above-average passing games (posting QB ratings of 80 or more), remains one of the most electric athletes ever to grace a gridiron. He is smooth, fast and dangerous as a runner. He has a magnificent arm for throwing deep. But those qualities aren't enough to define real greatness.
He continues to struggle with accuracy on short passes, and making wise decisions when a play breaks down still seems out of his grasp. Those two issues came home to roost Sunday.
Vick may not have been to blame in this game the way he was in the two previous losses at Detroit and against Cleveland, when he combined for six turnovers. In this loss, Vick's lack of contribution was far more subtle.
Whether significant or subtle, Vick's lack of consistency appears to be undermining the Falcons. That was evident during two critical moments of the game.
The first was late in the third quarter after Baltimore had taken its first lead of the game, 10-7. On second-and-goal from the Ravens' 3-yard line, Vick had tight end Alge Crumpler wide open in the end zone. Vick missed, throwing wide of the ample-sized Crumpler.
"That's a play that I definitely have to make," Vick said.
On the next play, Vick lobbed a fade pass to tight end Dwayne Blakley but underthrew it so badly that he allowed Ravens defenders to break up the pass. Rather than going up by four points, the Falcons had to settle for a 10-10 tie.
Baltimore regained the lead in short order with running back Jamal Lewis scoring from 15 yards out for one of his three touchdowns as the Ravens pounded away with their running game even in the face of adversity. Baltimore had only 5 yards rushing in the first half but finished the game with 103 on 31 carries.
Still, the Falcons were in position to counter on the next drive when they faced a third-and-4 from the Baltimore 19. Atlanta offensive coordinator Greg Knapp called for a screen pass, but the Ravens anticipated the call.
After letting the play develop, Vick had nowhere to throw and didn't recognize the situation fast enough. By the time he did, defensive lineman Trevor Pryce was in his face and Vick thought throwing the ball away was too risky. The end result was a 17-yard loss that not only killed the drive but also took the Falcons out of field-goal range. Afterwards, Vick was asked if there was another option on the play. His answer took a literal and figurative slap at Knapp, who Vick has had problems with over the past two years.
"That's it," Vick said. "If [the screen] ain't there, throw it away."
So the coaching staff called a pass play with just two options at that juncture of the game? Sounds odd, but the bottom line is that critical points, Vick and the Falcons let seven points slip away.
For his part, Atlanta coach Jim Mora Jr. refused to point the finger at Vick.
"People want me to get up here every week and say that Michael Vick is the problem, and I'm not going to do it," Mora said.
Falcons owner Arthur Blank wouldn't get too detailed in his analysis of the team, but he essentially called the squad inconsistent.
"I don't see the kind of consistency on our team that we should have," Blank said. "Consistency is critical in business, in sports, in life … When the organization can perform at a high level – as we have done – you know that ability is there. It's a matter of getting that performance on a consistent basis."
Mora's answer to that was an elaborate way of saying, "we need to work harder."
But how much more can a coach do when he doesn't know what his best player will be from week to week?