The Eagles chose to showcase Michael Vick against the Falcons last season, something that didn't sit well with some in Atlanta.
Payback time? We don’t know if Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick will even play against his former team, the Atlanta Falcons, but it doesn’t really matter. This game already is a grudge match behind the scenes. When the Eagles came to Atlanta last year, Philadelphia coach Andy Reid inserted Vick, then serving as a part-time player behind Donovan McNabb, into the lineup enough to throw for a touchdown and run for one. Those were his first scores since 2006, when he was with the Falcons. At the time, the Falcons were playing without quarterback Matt Ryan, several other starters and they had a whole bunch of guys banged up. There was a feeling among some important people in Atlanta that Reid intentionally -- and unnecessarily -- was rubbing the organization's nose in it. That story hasn’t gotten a lot of play because the Falcons don’t talk publicly about it. But that feeling was there then and it’s there now. At the very least, it provided some extra motivation in the team’s Flowery Branch headquarters this week and probably will do the same Sunday. The Falcons are completely healthy now and on a four-game winning streak. What if they get a chance to really rub it in the Eagles? Just my guess, but I think coach Mike Smith is too classy to do something like that. If he can win this game, he’ll do it gracefully.
The Michael Jenkins factor. Atlanta receiver Michael Jenkins will make his season debut after recovering from a shoulder injury. I think this is going to be a much bigger boost to the Atlanta offense than most people realize. The Falcons have played (pretty well) for five games without the full offense they want on the field. Now, they’re going to have it. Jenkins is going to step into the No. 2 receiver position and be the role player he always has been. He’s not flashy, but he’ll catch a few passes and he’ll help as a run blocker. More importantly, he’ll allow Harry Douglas to settle in as the slot receiver. That’s the spot the Falcons have pictured Douglas in since the day they drafted him and it just might help ease all the talk about how the Falcons don’t take enough shots down the field.
Everybody’s smiling. When I was out at One Buccaneer Place the other day, one thing stood out when I was in the locker room. The atmosphere was completely different than a year ago. Sure, winning cures a lot of things. But I think this process started back in the offseason and preseason when the Bucs unloaded Antonio Bryant and Derrick Ward. I’m not going to dance around it: They were not good locker-room guys. Coach Raheem Morris and Mark Dominik are growing up just like their team, and I think one of the more important things they decided in the offseason was they weren’t going to put up with malcontents in a locker room full of young players.
Signature game? A lot of people say Sunday could be a signature game for the Bucs if they can beat the Saints. While I think a win over New Orleans would be important, I don’t think that really would be the right way to look at it. I think this team already has turned some corners and coming from behind to win on the road in Cincinnati was a pretty big one. I don’t think the process in Tampa Bay has completely played itself out yet. But I don’t think winning or losing to New Orleans is going to make or break this season. The Bucs already have shown they’re respectable.
On the bright side. There’s no doubt New Orleans fans are passionate. But the “sky-is-falling’’ attitude that popped up after the loss to Arizona is a little over the top. Yes, losing to a bad team with an undrafted rookie (Max Hall) at quarterback was horrible, and it’s clear that the Saints have issues and injuries. But Sean Payton’s still the coach, Drew Brees is still the quarterback and that means this whole thing isn’t coming apart at the seams.