They resorted to the standard football jargon, employing terms like discipline and containment, still convinced their approach could have worked. And that's nonsense, of course, because defensive game plans are tied to offensive predictability, and nobody in the NFL is less predictable than Michael Vick with the ball in his hands.
The Buffalo Bills thought they had it all figured out heading into Sunday, that by repeatedly blitzing Vick they'd bar all the backfield exits, eliminate his means of escape. They would prey on his defiance, feast on his determination to transform nothing into something. They'd make him pay for a stubbornness that resulted in the Falcons quarterback taking the second-most sacks in the league last season.
It's a game plan that assumed the Vick of today is no more refined than the Vick of yesterday, a faulty assumption given what transpired during Atlanta's 24-16 victory at The Ralph. The Bills pressured Vick, but rarely rattled him. Instead, they came across a quarterback more willing than ever to hold firm in the pocket. Only when all downfield options were exhausted did Vick break from the backfield, hell on two legs, a tender hamstring of no consequence.
"He controlled the offense well, and he made plays when it was needed for him to make plays," said cornerback Jabari Greer. "We would have the receivers blanketed down the field and he would see that and he would make something happen with his legs. And I think that's the one thing that Atlanta really appreciates in him."
Vick's detractors, most of them die-hard traditionalists, complain he's not a full-fledged quarterback. They insist a quarterback is obligated to dispersing the football, that Vick's too inaccurate a passer to fulfill the necessary requirements, overly reliant on his incomparable wheels. But he was 15 of 27 passing Sunday for 167 yards, no completion more damaging to the Bills than the 17-yard bullet he fired to Brian Finneran in the third quarter with Buffalo surging, the crowd crazed and the Falcons running third-and-6 from their 7. A hold there and the Bills take over near midfield instead of their 13. And this guy's not a quarterback? How about the 17-yard pass to Finneran on third-and-11 during the Falcons' final touchdown drive? Was that the work of a legitimate QB?
"They like to say that because of his feet," said free safety Troy Vincent. "But you watch tape, he stays back in the pocket. Today he was very patient. He only left the pocket when he had to. And when he was in the pocket he converted some passes. He's just as effective as most QBs. He's just a double threat because he has the ability to escape. And with his ability he keeps the defense honest. There's certain things you won't do just because of his ability."
The guy ought to be illegal because what's a defense to do? The Falcons were clinging to a 17-16 lead early in the fourth quarter, faced with a third-and-10 from the Buffalo 39. Vick faded back, found his receivers covered, improvised. He sidestepped Sam Adams at the line for warm-ups, darted down the right side, evading a diving Nate Clements, then another tackler, and another, before being corralled out of bounds at the Buffalo 12. Power back T.J. Duckett scored on the next play, an easy jaunt through a defense run ragged.
"That's what's so hard preparing for somebody like Mike Vick is that he can do so much with his legs, and he has probably the (liveliest) arm in the league," said strong safety Lawyer Milloy. "Sometimes his arm is his detriment because he has such a powerful arm that sometimes he doesn't hit all the throws. But he's definitely capable of throwing just as well as running."
He showed the Bills a bit of everything, an efficient arm, those legendary legs that produced 64 yards on nine attempts, poise, maturity.
"Today we didn't see anything new or out of the ordinary," Vincent said. "We prepared for exactly what we saw today."
Sounds like the ultimate compliment.