Vick: Knee is better

FLOWERY BRANCH - Quarterback Michael Vick wants to start this week against New England, but Atlanta's franchise cornerstone continues to take a wait-and-see approach with his sore right knee.

He participated in a few practice drills for the second straight day. Based on how he feels once he arrives Sunday at the Georgia Dome, Michael Vick will meet with coach Jim Mora and the team's medical staff before reaching a final decision.

"Yeah, it's getting better, and the only way I can tell that is when I go out there and try to do some things on it," Vick said after practice Thursday. "I'm trying to cut and plant a little bit and I can feel if I've progressed or digressed. I feel like today I progressed a little bit."

At least Vick's sprained medial collateral ligament has given Matt Schaub more snaps than he's accustomed to taking with the first-team offense. The extra work means a lot to a second-year quarterback who lost his one career start last season at New Orleans.

"It helps to see the looks that you watch on film," Schaub said. "Seeing them reacting and running their plays as opposed to sitting back with mental reps, watching someone else do it and then have to go in there and run them. I just need to get better and complete more balls, move the chains and be decisive with the football."

Schaub replaced Vick in the second quarter against Minnesota last week. The Falcons led 14-0 when Schaub took charge, and the former Virginia standout helped the offense get in position to score another 16 points.

As for Vick, his best news this week came when X-ray and MRI results were negative. The two-time Pro Bowl selection still can't believe that Erasmus James, the Vikings' rookie end, wasn't called for a late hit. Vick's knee hurt too much for him to spend energy complaining to officials at that time.

"Oh, I was scared, man, because my knee hit the ground so hard," Vick said. "It was a late hit, but they didn't throw a flag. Shocked me, but it hurt me. I was just holding it, hoping that it wasn't as serious as I thought. I was just thankful that it wasn't serious."

--Warrick Dunn said Wednesday that the backups playing in spots once occupied by Rodney Harrison, Tedy Bruschi and Ted Johnson "get paid, too," so it's clear the Atlanta running back and his team are believe that New England's coaches are savvy enough to fix the breakdowns that hurt their club last week.

Regardless the status of quarterback Michael Vick, the Falcons are running the ball with a ton of confidence. Their 209-yard average doesn't just lead the league; it's 50.8 higher than No. 2 San Diego, which pummeled the Patriots in last week's blowout at Foxboro, Mass.

"It's a situation where guys know their assignments, and they're going out and executing," said Dunn, who's averaging 5.6 yards per carry. "We're all comfortable in our roles. Guys are afraid to make a mistake here and there because they everyone else around them will pick them up and move on to the next play."

Vick drew a lot of inspiration from the win at Buffalo two weeks ago when he played with a tight hamstring. Staying in the pocket more than he ever has in an entire game, Vick finished 15-of-27 passing for 167 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He also ran nine times for 64 yards.

"It was big to experience that whole deal," Vick said Wednesday. "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. I did what I had to do. I went out there on the field on Sunday just relaxed, and I tried not to do too much."

Schaub is no Vick, but that's OK. What's important, despite those absurd vacancies in the Vikings' defense, is that Schaub won't try to rush for the 14-yard average Minnesota allowed on his four carries last week.

"If for some reason Matt plays, then I don't feel like our players will worry about it," Mora said. "They will just shrug their shoulders and keep going. For him to have some of the experiences that he has had, whether it is preseason or late last year or last Sunday, and having some success with that it gives everyone a comfort zone when he is in there. Nobody goes, 'I have to do more,' or 'We've got to do this.' They just keep playing. That's when you function well as a team. No one panics, no one gets tight, and they move to the next down."

SERIES HISTORY: 11th meeting. The Patriots ended a four-game losing streak in the series with a 24-10 victory Nov. 4, 2001 at the Georgia Dome. They sacked Chris Chandler and rookie Michael Vick a combined nine times. Vick ran twice for 50 yards, but he completed just two of nine passes after New England knocked out Chandler.

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