FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (Oct. 5, 2005) -- For a quarterback who puts himself at risk as much as Michael Vick, there's a skill that must be mastered as much as learning plays and reading defenses.
Playing in pain.
The Atlanta Falcons quarterback is getting plenty of experience at it this season, having already endured a strained hamstring and a sprained knee.
The latter caused Vick to miss the second half of a win over Minnesota on Oct. 2, but he plans to return for the Oct. 9 game against New England.
"What I take from all that is learning how to play with pain and knowing when to go and when not to go," Vick said. "All of my experiences in the past, they have definitely helped me at this point in my career."
He put some of those lessons to work on Oct. 5, doing some light running and agility drills while his teammates practiced. He'll test the knee a little more on Oc.t 6, a little more on Oct. 7, and hopefully be ready to go when the game rolls around.
The Falcons (3-1) listed Vick as probable.
"I am feeling a lot better," he said. "I am still a little sore, but it felt good to get out there today and run around, bounce around a little bit. I'm getting my flexibility back in my leg, and getting my range of motion."
Vick's past medical history goes something like this: a severely sprained ankle in his final year at Virginia Tech, a shoulder injury that knocked him out a game in 2002, a broken leg that essentially ruined the following season, and an ailing shoulder that caused him to miss a meaningless contest late last year.
Considering the amount of running that Vick does -- he gained 902 yards in 2004 -- it's not surprising that he's endured so many aches and pains. He was quick to point out, however, that most of his injuries "never happened when I was getting tackled or running with the football. It was always a fluke injury."
In Week 2 this season, Vick pulled up with a sore hamstring at the end of a long run in Seattle. He returned to the game hoping to complete the comeback from a 21-point deficit, but couldn't plant his leg like he wanted. Matt Schaub took over for the final offensive play, throwing an incomplete pass on fourth down to seal the Seahawks' victory.
The following week, Vick took things easy in practice but came back to lead Atlanta to a win at Buffalo. He threw for a season-high 167 yards, including two touchdowns, and ran nine times for 64 yards, including a 27-yarder.
Then, Vick was hit after he threw a pass against Minnesota, crumpling to the turf holding his right leg. After a few anxious moments for the Georgia Dome crowd, he walked off the field with what was later diagnosed as a mild knee sprain.
With the Falcons coasting to a 30-10 victory, there was no need for Vick to return. Schaub went the rest of the way, completing only 5 of 14 passes but breaking off a couple of 20-plus-yard runs.
"It was good that we finally got a quarterback in there who could use his legs," defensive end Patrick Kerney quipped. "Schauby's a game-breaker. We were getting tired of just having Mike sit back there in the pocket all day."
The Falcons were very encouraged by the way they reacted to Vick's injury. Two years ago, Atlanta fell apart after Vick broke his leg in a preseason game, winning just two of 12 games with Doug Johnson and Kurt Kittner filling in at quarterback.
No wonder the home fans gasped when they saw No. 7 go down against the Vikings. But the team just went about its business, rushing for 285 yards -- the second most in franchise history -- and making life miserable for Daunte Culpepper. The Minnesota quarterback was sacked nine times, intercepted twice and fumbled.
The Falcons keep insisting they're more than just a one-man team, a point that has more credence after their last game.
"Mike doesn't rush the passer. Mike doesn't return punts. Mike doesn't carry the ball on '18 Strong.' Mike doesn't pass block. Mike doesn't run routes. Mike doesn't cover receivers. Mike doesn't kick off or cover kickoffs, either," coach Jim Mora said.
"If he was doing all those things and he got hurt, then we'd be in real trouble. So we're OK."
Vick plans to prepare this week much as he did going into the Buffalo game. He'll continually test the knee to see what he can do and, more important, what he can't do.
"It was big to experience that whole deal," Vick said. "Coming off an injury and being able to recover during the week, and then playing that following Sunday and having a major impact on the game. I did everything right that week."