Atlanta’s Vick still struggling to outrun his critics

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The greatest athlete in the NFL finally was supposed to turn into a quarterback this season.

Early on, Michael Vick seemed ready at last to fulfill his promise for the Atlanta Falcons. Vick threw for seven touchdowns and 523 yards and posted a passer rating of 119.3 in victories over the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals in late October that raised the Falcons’ record to 5-2.

Everyone liked Mike.

Four straight losses and one hand gesture later and the bad Michael was on full display again.

The Falcons suffered a 31-13 thrashing by the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, and Vick responded to the jeers from the Georgia Dome crowd by making an obscene gesture to fans as he left the field.

Vick ran 12 times in that loss for 166 yards, falling 7 yards shy of his NFL single-game record by a quarterback. He also, however, threw for just 84 yards and posted an ignominious 47.9 passer rating.

The NFL fined Vick $10,000 for the obscene gesture, for which he repeatedly apologized.

Still, the events of the past month brought back questions that long surrounded the 26-year-old superstar from Virginia Tech. Will Vick ever be a true quarterback? Is he a leader? Can the Falcons win with him taking the snaps?

“I didn’t try and go out there and make every play on my own, because it’s not going to happen,” Vick said. “I threw the ball to the guys when they were open … and ran the ball when I had to. I didn’t try to do too much. I was trying to win the game and do some extra things.”

Those who have worked with Vick defend him as hard as he jukes defenders.

“Mike’s a great athlete, but he’s also a great quarterback,” said Jim Mora, Vick’s coach the last three seasons. “He’s just a great quarterback in a different way than we’re used to defining great quarterbacks. He’s kind of creating his own mold for greatness as a quarterback.”

Running back Warrick Dunn, a teammate for five years, also dismissed the criticism.

“Everyone dwells on [Vick] being this dropback passer, this prototype quarterback,” Dunn said. “Mike’s not a prototype. He’s a special player with special abilities. He just needs to play his game and not worry about what everyone else has to say.”

Vick refuted the criticism himself this week by simply saying, “I’m a quarterback, and I know how to play the position.”

Washington Redskins running back T.J. Duckett and tight end Brian Kozlowski played with Vick on the Falcons, and they say there is no problem with Vick’s work ethic or leadership.

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