- The Washington Times - Friday, November 8, 2002

When Michael Vick was chosen by Atlanta with the top pick in the 2001 draft, Tommy Maddox was back home in Texas, more than five years removed from his last NFL game.
On Sunday, Vick and Maddox will be the opposing quarterbacks as the Falcons (5-3) and Steelers (5-3) put their four-game winning streaks on the line in Pittsburgh. Vick's abilities and his rapid rise from scared backup to standout starter are remarkable, but Maddox's return from oblivion is more amazing. No other quarterback had gone 10 years between starts.
Maddox was drafted in the first round by Denver coach Dan Reeves in 1992 after his sophomore season at UCLA. He started four games that year for the injured John Elway but didn't play a snap in 1993 and was traded to St. Louis the following summer. Maddox got into only one game with the Rams and was cut the next August. Reeves immediately picked him up for the New York Giants, but Maddox completed just 26 percent of his 23 passes with three interceptions. Maddox was cut during training camp the following summer. The same thing happened in 1997 in Atlanta even though Reeves was by then coaching the Falcons.
Maddox appeared to be finished at 25. He returned to star for New Jersey of the Arena League in 2000 and was the MVP of the XFL in 2001, prompting the Steelers to sign him. With Pittsburgh on the verge of starting 0-3 with Kordell Stewart at quarterback, Maddox took over and has completed 64 percent of his passes while leading the Steelers to four consecutive games with at least 28 points for the first time in franchise history.
"No one's happier than I am for Tommy," Reeves told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "It took a long time for him to get that chance. All you need is that one opportunity."
Said Maddox, "When he released me he said, 'Tommy, I know you can be a successful starter in this league. For whatever reason, it's not working out with us.' I [wondered], if he liked me so much, why did he release me? There must be something wrong. That's why this time around has been that much sweeter. It's worked out for the best."
So has Reeves' decision to trade with San Diego for the right to choose Vick.
"This guy is different," Steelers coach Bill Cowher comparing Vick to such athletic quarterbacks as Stewart, Donovan McNabb and Steve McNair. "He's much faster He's really fast. Even with the best of plans, he's going to outrun someone or break a tackle."
The Steelers can take some heart from the Ravens' success against Vick last Sunday. Playing the same 3-4 scheme that Pittsburgh employs, Baltimore held Vick to 12-of-24 passing for 136 yards and minus-5 yards on seven carries. This after Vick had run for 182 yards while completing 32-of-46 passes for 373 yards the previous two weeks against Carolina and New Orleans.
Baltimore dropped six to eight defenders into zone coverage and channeled its rushers into the running lanes, resulting in less pressure on Vick while giving him less room to scramble. The Ravens also repeatedly kept a "spy" on him.
"We've got to be conscious of the lanes, make him work laterally and not give him a big alley where he can work downhill," Cowher said. "You might not generate the pass rush you like, but you try to keep him contained."
Midpoint highlights How much longer can Priest Holmes remain underrated? The Chiefs' running back leads the league in rushing, yards from scrimmage and touchdowns. He's on pace for a record 30 touchdowns, a record 2,594 yards from scrimmage and 1,714 rushing yards (the most since 1998).
Buffalo's Eric Moulds (853) and Peerless Price (838) could become the first teammates to finish 1-2 in receiving yards since San Diego's John Jefferson and Kellen Winslow in 1980. Indianapolis' Marvin Harrison is just three yards behind Price and has played one fewer game than the Bills' receivers. With 69 catches, Harrison is also keeping Moulds (62) and Price (60) from ranking 1-2 in that category. Winslow and Jefferson finished 1-3 in catches in 1980 as did Houston's Haywood Jeffires and Drew Hill in 1990. No teammates have finished 1-2 in catches since Washington's Charley Taylor and Jerry Smith in 1967.
Luck of the draw Three years ago this January, Dick Vermeil's St. Louis Rams edged Jeff Fisher's Tennessee Titans 23-16 in Super Bowl XXXIV. But Fisher's the one smiling now. Fisher's Titans lead the AFC South with the same 4-4 record that Vermeil's Kansas City Chiefs have in the AFC West. But the Chiefs are tied in that division's cellar with the slumping Oakland Raiders.
Under the new eight-division setup, Tennessee is currently in line to play host to a first-round playoff game while Kansas City will be looking ahead to next season on New Year's Eve. The most recent such case occurred in 1985, when Denver finished a game behind Oakland in the AFC West at 11-5 but stayed home while Cleveland qualified for postseason as the AFC Central champion with an 8-8 record.

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