Weather is for the birds: Eagles, Falcons face off

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 28, 2005

The Associated Press

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. - Michael Vick isn't concerned with what happened two years ago.

And he's not too worked up about the weather, either.

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With a snowstorm bearing down on Phrigid Philadelphia, the Falcons wrapped up preparations for Sunday's NFC championship game on a sunny, warm day at their training complex north of Atlanta.

Not exactly the sort of conditions they'll face at ''The Linc.''

''Bring it,'' coach Jim Mora said Friday. ''Whatever the weather is, we're going to go play in it. It doesn't matter to us. This is a very resilient team. They don't care what the weather conditions are, they don't care who we are playing, what we're playing in. We are just excited to play.''

Vick will be playing his second playoff game in Philadelphia. Two years ago, the quarterback wasn't much of a factor in a 20-6 loss to the Eagles. Of course, it was his first season as a starter.

''From what I can remember,'' he said, ''they pressured me. They ran some guys at me and kind of knocked me out of rhythm. That was two years ago. I think I'm a more experienced quarterback now, a more mature quarterback. I know what it takes to win.''

But can Atlanta, the only team from a warm-weather city to make the NFL's final four, endure a bitterly cold day in Philadelphia?

A snowstorm with blizzard-like conditions was expected to move through the city on Saturday, dumping up to a foot of snow. By game time, the flurries are likely be gone but the temperature was expected to top out at 18 degrees - with stiff gusts making it feel more like minus-7.

Vick, who grew up in Virginia, doesn't plan to wear a glove on his throwing hand or take any other extraordinary measures to cope with the cold.

''Just let it rip,'' he said. ''I've played plenty of football games in the cold weather and it didn't seem to matter, so I don't think it will matter at all in this game.''

The Eagles are more concerned with Vick's feet than his left arm. His speed, quickness and ability to turn an ordinary play into something extraordinary make him the most unique quarterback in the league.

Philadelphia will counter with the stingiest defense in the NFC and a coordinator, Jim Johnson, who is known for confusing young quarterbacks with his complex blitzing schemes.

''I don't want to change too much. We know what Michael is and we have to be smart,'' Johnson said. ''We're all going to pay attention to the guy, but we're not going to be spectators. We're going to be aggressive and we're going to let it fly a little bit, but still be smart.''

Vick was Atlanta's second-leading rusher with 902 yards and led the NFL with an average of 7.5 yards per carry. He ran for 119 yards, while throwing for just 82 in the Falcons' 47-17 second-round playoff victory over St. Louis. The Rams were baffled time and time again by Vick's bootlegs, which created huge holes whether he had the ball or not.

Johnson studied plenty of film on Vick this week, paying close attention to the way Tampa Bay's defense played him. The Buccaneers allowed Vick to run for 81 yards on eight carries in a game last month, but won 27-0. Vick had 73 yards rushing on nine carries in Atlanta's 24-14 win against Tampa in November.

Johnson probably won't designate a specific player to watch Vick on every play, but he might use speedy defensive end Jevon Kearse or one of the safeties in that role at times.

''Most people think that he's such a unique athlete that not one guy can always spy him, so you don't see much of it,'' Johnson said.

Kearse volunteered for a more active role against Vick.

''You see guys, like they have him cornered and about to take him down, and you blink and look again and he's probably busting his head on the goal post,'' Kearse said. ''He's the kind of player that if you break down and try to do anything, he'll make you look so silly.''

Arizona, Detroit and Kansas City also had success against Vick this season, but Johnson agreed that the playoff game two years ago shouldn't be much of a factor. Vick is more experienced and has a better supporting cast this time around.

''He has a good tight end now (Pro Bowler Alge Crumpler). He has two good running backs (Warrick Dunn and T.J. Duckett). You can't just stand around and watch him because he can throw the football,'' Johnson said.

Vick's passing numbers are mediocre - 2,313 yards, 14 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 56 percent completion rate. But he is sensitive to the perception that he looks to scramble first and wants to prove wrong any critics who say he's simply a running quarterback.

Then there's the weather. No one is quite sure what impact it will have.

Vick might have to fall back on the running game if a strong wind affects his throws. On the other hand, a slippery field may force him to rely more on his arm - one of the strongest in the league, though a bit lacking in accuracy.

''He'll have more advantage if it's good footing out there,'' Kearse said.