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Vick says he'll likely be back Dec. 7

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- After watching his team get off to a
miserable start without its best player, Atlanta Falcons coach Dan
Reeves wants Michael Vick back on the field now.

No way, says Vick, who insists he won't come back until his
broken leg is totally healed.

And, in the first firm timetable on his return, Vick said
Wednesday he'll probably make his debut Dec. 7 against Carolina --
much longer than the projected recovery period.

"I'm kind of frustrated," he said. "I thought I would be back
a little earlier. But I don't have any control over the way my body
feels. ... Right now, I can't do it. I honestly can't do it."

Reeves obviously feels different. He gave a totally unsolicited
assessment of Vick's recovery after being asked a general question
about how the Falcons (1-6) are holding up during a six-game losing
streak.

"Mike needs to get back as soon as he possibly can," Reeves
said Wednesday. "He talks about how he shouldn't come back, but I
think he realizes, too, that you've got a small window of
opportunity, and he's not getting better sitting on the
sidelines."

Vick, a Pro Bowler in his first season as a starter, broke his
right leg in an Aug. 16 exhibition game. At the time, doctors
projected the recovery time at 6-10 weeks. Philadelphia
quarterback Donovan McNabb returned from a similar injury in a day
short of eight weeks -- coincidentally, in time to lead the Eagles
to a playoff victory over Vick and the Falcons last January.

If Vick doesn't play until Dec. 7, his rehab will have lasted 16
weeks.

Second-stringer Doug Johnson started the first six games, but he
was benched after throwing 10 interceptions. Third-stringer Kurt Kittner started the last game, a 45-17 loss to New Orleans, and
will apparently start again against Philadelphia.

As for Vick, Reeves said, "If he's going to be better, it's
going to be getting in ball games and not watching Kurt and Doug
playing. It isn't the same."

Reeves originally was told Vick would be out for six to eight
weeks. Just to be on the conservative side, he figured his
quarterback could be out as long as 10 weeks.

Under that scenario, Vick would have been ready to go Sunday.

"He wants to get back out there as quick as he can," Reeves
said. "We're about 10 weeks into it, and hopefully he's close to
being ready."

Vick began running in a straight line on Monday without much
problem, but found the leg was still too painful to do any change
of direction -- critical to the running ability that separates him
from other QBs.

Vick figures he'll be able to resume practicing in two or three
weeks, and he'd like to have at least two weeks of practice time
before playing in a game.

While expressing surprise at Reeves' comments, Vick said he
doesn't expect the situation to cause a rift between player and
coach.

Vick said he has the support of owner Arthur Blank, who has told
the quarterback to make sure he's fully recovered before he tries
to play. Blank, of course, also will decide Reeves' fate.

Vick also suggested that his recovery has been prolonged because
Reeves wants him at practice.

"I do a lot of standing on it in practice," Vick said. "I
think that's set me back, too. ... I'm trying to stay off it as
much as I can."

The quarterback flatly rejected any suggestion he's delaying his
comeback because the Falcons' season already appears hopeless. He
said the team's record is irrelevant, but he's got to protect his
future.

"The opponents don't care about you," Vick said. "I have to
care about me. This is my livelihood. I want to play for a long
time."

Safety Keion Carpenter stood by his teammate and close friend.

"He's one of the fiercest competitors I've ever met,"
Carpenter said. "He's the leader of this team. He wants to be out
there, but nature won't let him."

In the past two weeks, Vick has spoken with McNabb, who
acknowledged he wasn't 100 percent when he returned for the
playoffs last season. "He emphasized to me not to rush it," Vick
said.

Vick tried to play with a severely sprained ankle during his
sophomore year at Virginia Tech, but could barely run. Never again.

"If I go out and try to play at 80 percent, I'm not going to
play like I want to play," Vick said. "I know what that feeling
is like. I don't want to feel it again."