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Steelers Vick shines through Steelers' storm

Monday, November 11, 2002

By Dejan Kovacevic, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

The Steelers gave Michael Vick their best shot yesterday. Several, actually. They swarmed him from all sides, drilled him into the Heinz Field turf and bruised him across his body.

But they apparently didn’t dent what mattered.

Falcons quarterback Michael Vick dances past Steelers cornerback Dewayne Washington for an 11-yard touchdown run in the final minute of regulation to tie the score, 34-34. (John Beale, Post-Gazette)

“This is my offense, my team. Nothing fazes me,” Vick said after rallying the Atlanta Falcons from 17 points down in the fourth quarter to a 34-34 tie with the Steelers. “Anything they throw at me, I can handle. I want to be the best. That’s my goal, to be the best, and that just comes through hard work.”

Yesterday, it came through working overtime, and Vick only got better as the game got longer.

Toss aside, for a moment, his overall statistics, and focus on what he did after the Steelers kicked a field goal to move ahead, 34-17, with 12:58 left: Atlanta had four possessions, resulting in a punt, a touchdown, a field goal and another touchdown. Vick’s contribution was to complete 7 of 15 passes for 120 yards and to run three times for 30 yards, including the improvised 11-yard sprint through the left side for the touchdown which produced the tie with 42 seconds left.

“If you don’t enjoy watching him play, there’s something wrong with you,” Falcons Coach Dan Reeves said. “He’s special.”

Reeves went so far as to compare Vick, the first pick in the 2001 NFL Draft, to another player he once had who sparked a comeback or two.

“Yeah, I saw John Elway do that several times,” Reeves said. “That’s what you could see. Our guys had the feeling that, if we just kept working, we’ve got a quarterback who can win for us. When the game’s on the line, he wants it. I’m just sorry we didn’t win it in overtime because I really thought we had a chance.”

The way the Steelers were coming at Vick, it didn’t appear he would have a chance to get through the game. As the Baltimore Ravens did the previous week, the Steelers went all-out to contain Vick between the tackles and, at the same time, prevent him from finding seams in the middle. To achieve that, they usually assigned one player specifically to monitor him.

It was linebacker Joey Porter who made the biggest impact, knocking a ball out of Vick’s hands with a wicked hit to his throwing shoulder on the first series and hounding him all game.

Vick never wavered.

“He’s more relaxed than what I thought he was going to be,” Porter said. “Everybody was telling us that he was going to run here and run there. He dropped back and threw the ball. He wasn’t really worried about the pressure.”

“Porter was a beast. I can’t believe how many times I turned around and saw him sitting on top of Mike,” Falcons wide receiver Brian Finneran said. “But give Mike credit. He took some big hits and got through the adversity. That’s what he does.”

Vick finished 24 of 46 for 294 yards passing and, despite the Steelers’ extra attention, added 52 yards on 10 runs.

Five of those runs came in the fourth quarter and overtime, which his teammates didn’t feel was a coincidence.

“After a while, the other guys tire out,” Atlanta cornerback Ray Buchanan said. “It’s like, ‘Hey, somebody else get him. I ain’t chasing that rabbit.’ That’s what ended up happening.”

Reeves was most effusive in praising Vick when pointing out that the Falcons converted 9 of 20 third downs, including from 23, 22 and 25 yards.

“That was all Mike,” Reeves said. “Believe me, there aren’t a lot of plays you can call in that situation, but Mike gives you that chance. They did a good job catching us with some blitzes and sacking us, but Mike made some great throws.”

“We have to stick together, overcome adversity,” Vick said. “To do that, you have to make big-time plays in big-time situations. We got stuck in a lot of third-and-longs, and we were able to overcome. That’s what defines a great offense.”

Perhaps the most positive sign for the Falcons in a mostly buoyant locker room -- they are 5-3-1 and unbeaten in their past five games -- was that Vick didn’t seem to share the enthusiasm of pulling out an unlikely tie.

“Disappointed,” he said, his head hanging as he got dressed. “I know it doesn’t count as a loss, but it doesn’t count as a win, either. We just have to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1938.

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