Vick is showing a flair for air

The Baltimore Sun

Michael Vick had his say. Now he's having his way.

Two games after Vick voiced exasperation over Atlanta's run-oriented mindset, the Falcons quarterback has effected a stunning makeover.

From running threat to passing whiz.

From prodigious talent to -- dare we say it -- prolific passer.

For the second straight week, Vick dazzled and otherwise amazed an AFC North opponent with his passing yesterday. He riddled the Cincinnati Bengals for 291 yards and three touchdowns, spiriting the Falcons to a big 29-27 road victory.

A week ago, in a 41-38 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, Vick threw for a career-high four touchdown passes.

Which means that, aside from outpassing more heralded quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Palmer, he has helped nudge the Ravens into first place in the AFC North. Vick and the Falcons arrive in Baltimore in three weeks to attempt the proverbial hat trick.

Granted, neither the Steelers nor the Bengals has a top-flight secondary. But in the past two weeks, Vick has completed 65.5 percent of his passes for 523 yards, seven touchdowns and only two interceptions on 58 attempts. His 9.02-yard average per attempt in those games is eye-opening.

It's not like he has quit running, either. Vick ran nine times for 55 yards against Cincinnati. But the difference now is that he's looking more often to buy time for the passing game. In the past, once he felt pressure or saw an opening, he was off and running.

Yesterday, he gave the Falcons a 20-17 lead when he was chased out of the pocket, sprinted left, and threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Michael Jenkins. Perhaps no quarterback can throw as accurately -- or as far -- on the run as Vick.

With 10 touchdown passes in seven games, the six-year veteran is on pace for 23. His career high is 16, set in 2002. And if he continues this transition, the 5-2 Falcons might be a hard team to beat in the postseason.

Quarterback quandaries

The revolving door at quarterback continued to spin in Week 8. Sitting down were Matt Hasselbeck of the Seattle Seahawks and Byron Leftwich of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Hasselbeck was sidelined with a knee injury, Leftwich ostensibly by an ankle injury.

They were soon joined by David Carr of the Houston Texans, who was benched in the third quarter after his third turnover in a 28-22 loss to the Tennessee Titans and Vince Young.

Texans coach Gary Kubiak stood by Carr in the offseason when he had a chance to draft Young, a Houston native. With the Texans on the way to their fifth loss this year, Kubiak brought in Sage Rosenfels, who threw for three touchdowns in 17 minutes.

It will be interesting to see what Kubiak does. Even though Carr is completing 70.5 percent of his passes, Rosenfels gave the Texans some offensive juice.

Jacksonville's situation bears watching, as well. Leftwich reportedly is in coach Jack Del Rio's doghouse, and while backup David Garrard didn't make any bad mistakes in a huge 13-6 upset of the Eagles, he only threw 17 times for 87 yards.

Ground to a halt

Even in the passing era, it is still incumbent on good teams to present the threat of a running game. Three teams that couldn't do that yesterday were losers:

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers ran only 13 times for 40 yards against the New York Giants' revived defense and never got to the end zone in a 17-3 loss in wind-blown Giants Stadium. Rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski was forced to throw 48 times and completed only 20 of those.

The Seattle Seahawks, still missing running back Shaun Alexander, last year's Most Valuable Player, had just 47 rushing yards in a wild 35-28 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Quarterback Seneca Wallace made his first NFL start, but was hurt by two interceptions.

The Eagles rushed for 85 yards, but 37 of those came from quarterback Donovan McNabb, who labored in the first half again this week.

Plummer's woes

The Denver Broncos have beaten the Indianapolis Colts in the regular season, only to lose to them in the playoffs, each of the past two seasons.

So yesterday's pulsating 34-31 loss to Peyton Manning at least changed the script -- to a point. But Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer had a costly turnover on a sack and fumble that will raise the volume level from Denver fans who want to see rookie quarterback Jay Cutler.

Plummer (13-for-21 for 174 yards) can't begin to match Manning (32-for-39 for 345 yards) in the passing game, which puts more pressure on the Denver defense and special teams to be perfect. But Cutler probably can't take the Broncos to the Super Bowl this year, either.

Sinking Steeler

Imagine this: Pittsburgh's Roethlisberger throws for 301 yards to Andrew Walter's 51 and the Steelers still lose to the Oakland Raiders, 20-13.

A week after he suffered a concussion, Roethlisberger threw four interceptions, with two of them returned for touchdowns. It was surprising that coach Bill Cowher didn't yank Roethlisberger, who has thrown 11 interceptions in six games, for a healthy Charlie Batch.

ken.murray@baltsun.com

Next week's top matchups

Bengals (4-3) at Ravens (5-2) -- The Ravens will get a chance to take control of the AFC North. The Bengals have lost three of their past four.

Colts (7-0) at Patriots (5-1) -- Colts GM Bill Polian has complained about the Patriots' virtual dirt field in Foxborough. Bill Belichick may have cinders waiting for the Colts.

Ken Murray

Extra points

New play-caller in Cleveland, too

Brian Billick wasn't the only play-caller to make a successful debut yesterday. Cleveland's Jeff Davidson, promoted to call plays after Maurice Carthon was pressured into resigning last week, leaned on Reuben Droughns (125 rushing yards) in the Browns' 20-13 win over the Jets. Under Carthon, the Browns scored more than 20 points only once in six games.

The NFC Worst

The Rams' defense was exposed in a 38-24 loss at San Diego, where LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for 183 yards and two of his three touchdowns. With Seattle losing, St. Louis had a chance to take the NFC West lead, but failed miserably. Interestingly, all four NFC West teams lost yesterday.

Cards collapsing

The chances coach Dennis Green will survive the season in Arizona are looking more remote after an abysmal 31-14 road loss to the Packers. The Cardinals couldn't intercept Brett Favre and allowed Ahman Green to run for 106 yards. Worse, Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart was only 14-for-35 against the Packers' weak secondary.

Law worked over

In the space of three minutes in the fourth quarter, Chiefs cornerback Ty Law dropped an interception that was thrown right at him, then bit on a pump fake from Seattle's Seneca Wallace and fell down as Darrell Jackson pulled in a 49-yard touchdown pass.

Offensive defense

It was a big day for defense, despite the high point totals. Two teams - the Ravens and Raiders - scored two touchdowns each on defense en route to victory. It's hard to lose when you get 14 points from your defense.

Chiefs on a roll

Kansas City coach Herman Edwards says Trent Green is his quarterback when the veteran has recovered from a first-week concussion. But the way Damon Huard is playing, he might need to reconsider. The guy the Chiefs can't afford to lose is running back Larry Johnson, who scored four touchdowns against Seattle and rushed for 155 yards.

Early outcome

The Bears jumped on the 49ers for 41 first-half points, then coasted for a 41-10 final. The 49ers committed five turnovers, and the Bears' scoring drives covered distances of 15, 41, 13, 24 and 70 yards.

Some advice

Memo to Jim Fassel: Find a college job, if you can.

[ Ken Murray]

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