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Dec. 27, 2006: Vick, Atlanta still waiting for a hit
By all indications, Michael Vick will enter the 2007 NFL season under his third head coach, his fourth offensive coordinator and, depending on how you read flow charts, his fifth quarterback coach.
It isn't premature to talk about 2007, since the 7-8 Atlanta Falcons and their life-support playoff hopes travel to Philadelphia on New Year's Eve for the regular-season finale.
Recent results suggest that the Eagles are on a mission, while the Falcons need a missionary, or any qualified clergyman, to perform some sort of exorcism.
When Falcons owner Arthur Blank pink-slips head coach Jim Mora following a second consecutive stagger to the finish line, it would be perfectly understandable for Vick to climb to the top of the Bank of America Plaza building in downtown Atlanta and unleash a profane rant that air traffic controllers at Hartsfield International can pick up.
Not because of Vick's undying loyalty toward Mora -- though he likes his head coach well enough -- but because seven years into his NFL career he again will be back at Square One. Or given his level of experience, maybe Square Two.
Aside from Terrell Owens' p.r. flak, NFL quarterback is the most demanding position in professional sports. Success is as much a by-product of consistency and continuity as arm strength and athletic gifts.
Indeed, continuity matters. If Smoky Robinson hadn't been discovered and nurtured by Berry Gordy, he might never have been anything more than a 1960s Detroit phenomenon. Or if not for Dr. Dre, Calvin Broadus might be just a Long Beach, Calif., hip-hop MC peddling discs out of his trunk, instead of Snoop Dogg.
But we digress.
Vick, who should be entering the "Hitsville U.S.A." phase of his professional career, likely will be learning yet another new system and trying to remember which coach has the kids in college and which coach is less approachable before his morning coffee.
Factor in a $45-million lawsuit filed against him by his former agent, Andrew Joel, for allegedly reneging on an endorsement deal, and Vick must wonder who he torqued off in a previous life.
Now, this isn't to suggest that occasional purges aren't necessary or that Vick is blameless in the Falcons' current pig-sty.
Though Vick became the first quarterback in league history to rush for 1,000 yards, he is completing a career-low 52.4 percent of his passes. Some of that is because Falcon receivers dropped balls with stunning regularity, some because he simply missed throws.
Vick gave a middle-finger salute to unhappy fans following a loss to the Saints in the Georgia Dome last month.
Among the higher-rated quarterbacks than Vick are Jon Kitna, Rex Grossman, David Carr and Alex Smith.
Collectively, and this splashes back on the head coach, the Falcons have lost six of their last eight games, just as they did to conclude 2005.
In some kind of netherworld exacta, the Falcons are the only team to lose to both the Lions and the Browns. They lost their last four at home, including Sunday's 10-3 effort against the previously toe-tagged Carolina Panthers.
And then there was the small matter of Mora's radio interview in which he said he would drop everything to coach his alma mater, the Washington Huskies. He later said he was simply goofing with his old college buddy.
You're tempted to take Mora at his word because though he may be a lot of things, foolish isn't one of them. Yet when you listened to the exchange, there wasn't nearly the level of irreverence or absurdity on Mora's part to convey that he was indeed goofing.
The bottom line is that Mora's radio daze and Vick's frustration flip-off would be little more than footnotes had the Falcons performed as they and everyone else believe they should, particularly in the god-awful, up-for-grabs NFC.
If Blank decides that changes must be made, and that appears increasingly likely, it's easier to move the head coach than the franchise player with the $130-million contract and the $37-million signing bonus to whom he has hitched his wagon.
Vick goes back to school and hopes the lessons are learned quickly. Blank and the Falcons' fans second that emotion.