Falcons could be done by the time Vick returns

Updated: October 10, 2003, 10:54 AM ET
ESPN

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Michael Vick headed off to the training room Thursday, a frustrated look on his face.

The way things are going, the Atlanta Falcons could be done by the time their star quarterback gets back on the field.

"It's tough, man," Vick said, stopping briefly on the way to rehab his injured right leg. "I'm still a part of this football team, so I'm dealing with what everyone else is dealing with. I'm just not playing."

The Falcons (1-4) have lost four in a row, their season teetering on the brink of oblivion after a thrilling run to the playoffs last year.

"He's the star, he's the franchise, he's the man," safety Keion Carpenter said. "I knew we were going to struggle some without him, but I didn't think we would be 1-4."

Boy, it sure would be nice to have a healthy Vick right about now. But his return is still weeks away -- and who knows how effective he'll be even when he returns.

"I know the fans, the team, everybody, are hyped up about having him back," cornerback Ray Buchanan said. "But the big question is: Will Mike be Mike? We don't want to rush this thing. He has the potential to be great. We don't want him to hurt himself."

Vick already did that, breaking his leg during a preseason game. The injury was supposed to keep him out at least six weeks, which means he would have returned for last week's game against Minnesota under the most optimistic of projections.

He didn't, of course. And no one is quite sure when Vick will take his next snap.

He won't be back for Monday night's game at St. Louis. The following week looks out of the question, too. Now, the most likely comeback date is Nov. 2 against Philadelphia, after a bye week.

"Who's to say?" Vick said. "The way things are going, I want to come back, but I don't know what's going to happen."

While Vick is out of his cast and can walk without a limp, he's still limited to exercises designed to help him flex his foot so he can stand on his toes.

So far, the pain has been too great to allow Vick to do any sort of running or serious throwing. The Falcons hope to get him on the treadmill soon for "accelerated walking," but that hasn't happened yet.

No matter how many games the Falcons lose, no matter how painful it is to keep watching, Vick insists he won't get back on the field until he's fully recovered.

"I'm just hoping to get healthy so I can be as good as I was before," he said. "It would crazy to come back sooner. What I'm doing now is trying to get 100 percent, but I'm not 100 percent.

"How can I help the team if I'm limping around out there? I don't want to go out there and embarrass myself."

While No. 2 quarterback Doug Johnson has struggled in the starting role, he's got plenty of company. The defense ranks last in the league in yards allowed and 28th in points allowed. In three home losses, the Falcons have surrendered an average of 34 points a game.

"It's not even about Mike," Carpenter said. "It's about not playing well. I'm not saying we would still be 1-4 if Mike was here, but we're just not playing well as a team."

That goes for Johnson, too. Initially hyped as a guy who was capable of starting somewhere else, he's been exposed as the backup he is.

Johnson is the 24th-rated passer in the league and has thrown an NFL-high nine interceptions. An inconsistent running game and some atrocious play by the offensive line haven't helped matters. The Falcons already have given up three safeties.

"There's not a single team in the NFL that wouldn't be better without Michael Vick as the quarterback," defensive end Patrick Kerney said. "But that's not an excuse for feeling sorry for yourself." If nothing else, Vick's teammates are sticking to the company line: Take your time, Mike, we'll try to have things turned around by the time you get back.

"He's got his whole career ahead of him," Carpenter said. "We've got to find a way to win some games right now, so he's not feeling pressure to win games all by himself when he gets back."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index