- The Washington Times - Monday, December 7, 2009

ATLANTA | When Michael Vick finally made it back to the end zone, a place he hadn’t been in more than three years, he was torn about what to do.

A Lambeau Leap? Nah, that would’ve taken too much effort.

Instead, he wanted to reward one of those fans who cheered his return to Atlanta. Only one problem - when he flipped the ball toward the stands, it got caught up in the net going up for the extra point.

Not to worry. Everything else went right for Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.

Back in the city he once ruled, Vick put up a pair of touchdowns - one running, the other passing, each his first since 2006 - and basked in the cheers of the Georgia Dome crowd as the Eagles dominated the short-handed Falcons 34-7.

“It was as loud as it gets in the Dome,” said Vick, who teared up on the bus ride over to the stadium. “I heard the chants all through the stadium, and it sent chills down my spine. They were just letting me know that people still appreciate what I’ve done.”

He was a three-time Pro Bowl selection with the Falcons and one of the most dynamic players in the NFL before his stunning downfall for dogfighting. After serving prison time and losing two seasons in the prime of his career, he’s trying to rebuild it all as a backup in Philadelphia.

Vick ran for a 5-yard touchdown in the third quarter, his first since Oct. 15, 2006. With the game out of hand, he slipped a 5-yard scoring pass to Brent Celek early in the fourth, his first touchdown toss since that final season with the Falcons.

“It couldn’t have happened at a better time,” Vick said. “I want to become one of the top quarterbacks in this league again.”

The Eagles (8-4) pulled two games ahead of the reeling Falcons (6-6) in the NFC wild-card standings, bringing a little more clarity to the playoff race. But most of the attention was on Vick’s first game in Atlanta since he left the city in disgrace.

Vick was showered with boos when he came in for a couple snaps on Philadelphia’s opening possession. But by the fourth quarter, the fans - many of them wearing No. 7 jerseys - were chanting, “We want Vick! We want Vick!”

“You were seeing a guy in his element,” said Eagles starting QB Donovan McNabb, who gave Vick a long hug after the scoring pass to Celek. “I think he was just relishing the moment.”

Deciding that two touchdowns was enough, especially with Vick bothered by a sore hand, Philadelphia coach Andy Reid let third-stringer Kevin Kolb finish the game, much to the chagrin of those fans who hoped the ex-Falcons star would get even more playing time.

Still, the day was everything - and then some - Vick could’ve hoped for. He went 2-for-2 passing, setting up his touchdown throw with a 43-yard completion to Reggie Brown, and ran four times for 17 yards and the score.

Atlanta sure could’ve used its former quarterback.

Five offensive starters, including quarterback Matt Ryan, were sidelined by injuries. That was simply too much to overcome, even with the Eagles missing a couple of key offensive players, running back Brian Westbrook and receiver DeSean Jackson.

The Falcons scored on the final play to avoid a shutout.

“You knew when Vick came back to Atlanta he was going to be on fire,” running back Jerious Norwood said.

Before the game, Vick chatted with Falcons owner Arthur Blank and several former teammates, including receiver Roddy White. When it was time to get down to business, No. 7 led the Eagles out of the tunnel, served as one of the captains for the coin toss and came in on Philadelphia’s fifth and seventh plays from scrimmage.

“Everybody rallied around him,” Reid said. “I’m sure he had a little extra juice going.”

After taking those first two snaps, Vick just watched - until the Eagles faced third-and-1 at the Atlanta 5 on the opening drive of the third quarter, leading only 13-0 in a game they had dominated. Vick lined up in a shotgun and pulled off the sort of play that was so familiar when he played for the home team.

He sprinted to his right, cut sharply to his left, broke a tackle and dove into the end zone for a touchdown that seemed to lift a huge weight off his shoulders. With the boos now drowned out by thunderous cheers, Vick pulled away from his teammates and headed toward the stands.

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