Vick's back, but game is more important

ATLANTA (AP) - December 5, 2009

For the players, it's a different outlook.

There's a huge game to play on Sunday, and No. 7 is unlikely to have much of an impact when the Falcons host Vick's new team, the Philadelphia Eagles.

"It's really not a topic of conversation for the players here. We're concentrating on winning these last five games," Atlanta fullback Ovie Mughelli said. "Mike coming back is a great thing. We wish him the best as always. But that's not what we're concentrating on."

No need to. Vick, in his first game against his former team since serving 18 months in prison for dogfighting, is nothing more than a sideshow based on his first nine games with the Eagles.

The player who once electrified the NFL is a spare part for Philadelphia (7-4), spending most of his time on the sideline. Donovan McNabb is the undisputed starter at quarterback while Vick bides his time, staying out of trouble, preaching against the evils of dogfighting and no doubt hoping he'll get a shot at some real playing time in 2010.

It's certainly going to feel strange being on the visiting team at the Georgia Dome, the scene of so many great plays during his six seasons in Atlanta. Even after his criminal activities came to light, Vick held out hope of returning to the Falcons.

"In the back of your mind, you're always hoping for a second chance, but you never know if it's going to happen," he said. "When they cut ties, I knew it was the end and I knew it was the best thing for that team at that time because my future was very uncertain.

"I always wanted to go back, but it was the right thing to do."

Meanwhile, there's a game that could have a huge impact on the NFC playoffs. The Eagles are tied with Green Bay for the wild-card lead, the Falcons (6-5) are just one game back and eager to gain the upper hand on Philadelphia in case there's a playoff tiebreaker.

"We want to get to the playoffs. We want to have a chance at the Super Bowl," Mughelli said. "To do that, we have to win - especially in November and December. So, they're going to come with everything they've got, we're going to come with everything we've got, and we feel like we're the better team."

Maybe they would be if all things were equal.

But the Falcons' offense is really hanged up. Quarterback Matt Ryan is definitely out with turf toe, star running back Michael Turner is hobbling on a sprained right ankle, and guard Harvey Dahl, tackle Sam Baker and receiver Michael Jenkins are hurting, too.

"We need some new key guys," Mughelli said.

Chris Redman will get his first start since 2007 in place of Ryan, having shown last week that he's capable of leading the offense. The little-used backup threw for 243 yards and two touchdowns, including the winning score on a fourth-down pass to Roddy White with 23 seconds left for a 20-17 victory over the woeful Buccaneers.

"Everybody thinks backup quarterback is the best job in the world - until it's time to go," Redman said. "That's part of it. You have to be ready for any challenge and any situation, whether it's a big game or a nothing game."

The Eagles have some injury concerns of their own. Running back Brian Westbrook will miss his third straight game with a concussion, and top receiver DeSean Jackson was struggling to get over a head injury in last week's win over Washington.

"It's a loss any time you lose one of your playmakers," McNabb said. "What we have to do as an offense is just continue to spread the ball around in the passing game, be very effective in the run-screen game, move the chains and come out with touchdowns instead of field goals."

There are still fans who wear Vick's No. 7 jersey to the Georgia Dome, and they're likely to be more of them in the stands Sunday. Even so, the Falcons expect to have the crowd on their side.

Atlanta is 12-1 at home over the past two years.

"Mike did have a huge impact on this franchise," Mughelli said. "There's going to be people who are still supportive of him. There's nothing wrong with that. But I think first and foremost, those people are Falcons fans. He's not playing for the Falcons anymore. We're the Falcons."

Other than a 34-yard run at Chicago two weeks ago, Vick hasn't done anything spectacular in his return to the league after missing two full seasons. He's 3 for 9 passing for 6 yards, and he's carried 15 times for 65 yards, including two kneel-downs.

Maybe he'll get some time at receiver with Jackson hurting.

"Who knows?" Vick said. "I'm confident I can contribute anywhere. Playing quarterback is where I make the biggest difference, but, hey, whatever you need me to do. I'm the handyman. I can make it happen."

No matter what happens Sunday, Vick has a message for all those Atlanta fans he let down with his gruesome activities off the field.

"I would say I'm not the same person I was when I left in 2007," he said. "I've been through a lot, seen a lot, had to deal with a lot. Going through certain experiences, you mature a great deal. You never know how much you mature until you are put in a similar situation. Those situations I handled pretty well and much different than I would a couple years ago."

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