The Askew Slant

Wade Askew

By Wade AskewThe Daily Northwestern

You’ve heard the critics howl throughout the first five years of Mike Vick’s career: Vick is a glorified running back; he is about as accurate as a Rush Limbaugh report on a Democratic convention; Atlanta will never win a Super Bowl with him at quarterback. Some even claimed that he should try to become a pocket passer, pointing to the fact that no Super Bowl champion has played the quarterback position with a running signal caller.

While such critiques were always ludicrous, Vick has shown with unreal performances in the past two weeks that he may become the most unstoppable weapon the league has ever seen.

First off, Vick should not have been required to produce two Herculean efforts in a row to earn respect as a quarterback. Look at his track record – not the stats, but wins and losses. In 2001, with Chris Chandler starting at quarterback and Vick backing him up as a 21-year-old rookie, the Falcons went 7-9.

A year later, with Vick permanently at the helm, the Falcons not only reached the playoffs, but also handed the Green Bay Packers their first ever postseason loss at Lambeau Field. In the same year, Vick could have been a senior in college had he stayed at Virginia Tech.

In 2003, after Vick broke his leg in the preseason, the Falcons fell to 5-11. Yet three of those wins came after Vick returned from the injury as he led the team to a 3-1 record in its final four games. With Vick healthy for an entire season in 2004, Atlanta made a trip to the NFC Championship game. Think Vick lining up under center makes a difference in the Falcons’ success?

Still, after a mediocre 8-8 2005 season, NFL fans everywhere forgot about Vick’s consistent and at times astonishing success as a bright young quarterback. Never mind that Atlanta’s injury-stricken defense was ranked 22nd in the NFL and the offense ranked 12th. Or that Atlanta’s biggest-name wide receiver was Brian Finneran.

The fact is Vick did not have to become a highly efficient passing quarterback in order to be a successful player. He had proven that his unparalleled running ability and athleticism, as well as his toughness and competitive nature, could alone lead the Falcons to victories.

However, Vick set out to quiet his critics during a productive off-season in which he refined his passing skills and developed better relationships with his little-known receivers. Vick’s own personal strides, coupled with offensive coordinator Greg Knapp’s eventual acceptance of Vick, certainly help. But Vick is not built for the precision-based, short-passing, timing-dependent West Coast offense that has so far allowed him to unharness his explosive left arm and take his game to the next level: dominance.

This dominance has been on display during the past two weeks in Atlanta’s wins over the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals. And if Vick continues such a level of play, we will have the opportunity to witness something football fans have never seen before. This statement is not meant to sensationalize – it’s fact.

Vick was already one of the most feared players in the NFL, the player defensive linemen hated to chase and coordinators dreaded planning against. The things he did on the football field were unprecedented. Now he is just taking things one step further.

In his career, Vick has never thrown for more than 16 touchdowns in a season. Through seven games this year he has 10 touchdowns. As of Oct. 21, Vick had never thrown for more than two touchdowns in one game – two weeks later he had done so twice. In the past two games combined Vick posted an efficiency rating of 119.5; the league leader, Peyton Manning, has a rating of 107.9 on the year.

Meanwhile, Rex Grossman, who is being hailed as the savior of the Bears’ offense, has a rating of 89.6 on the year, just 5.6 higher than Vick’s overall rating. And do not forget that the ratings ignore the 496 yards Vick has run for, good for being 18th overall in the league (i.e. in front of 15 teams’ leading rusher). Donovan McNabb has the second-highest quarterback rushing total with 200 yards, not even half of what Vick has gained.

Vick beat Carson Palmer at his own game in Cincinnati, using efficient, prolific passing. In the same game, Vick remained a dynamic running threat (he ran for 55 yards in addition to his 291 yards and three touchdowns through the air). The Falcons will be unstoppable, plain and simple.

And yes, that even applies to the almighty Chicago Bears defense. Atlanta’s potent rushing attack already averages 53 yards per game more than the second-rated rushing San Diego Chargers, making it a difficult feat to stop Atlanta.

Add a consistent passing game to the equation and Vick will prove his toughest critics wrong by carrying his team to a Super Bowl victory at the end of the year. And he will do so in ways never before seen, and likely never to be seen again.

Reach Wade Askew at [email protected]