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Jeered lustily as he headed to the locker room tunnel after the 31-13 loss to the New Orleans Saints, the Falcons' fourth consecutive defeat, Vick reacted by lifting the middle finger of his left hand, and then his right hand, to the fans. The image was captured by network television cameras and replayed several times Sunday night. It very quickly became the preponderant subject on Atlanta talk radio Sunday evening.
Vick issued a statement through the team Sunday night, saying, "First and foremost, I would like to apologize for my inappropriate actions with fans today. I was frustrated and upset at how the game was going for my team, and that frustration came out the wrong way. That's not what I'm about. That's not what the Atlanta Falcons are about. I simply lost my cool in the heat of the moment. I apologize and look forward to putting this incident behind me."
A team spokesman said Falcons management was aware of the incident, but noted that the club would not have a response until it spoke to Vick about the matter. Vick's agent was unaware of the incident until reached by ESPN.com on his cell phone, but also deferred comment until he had an opportunity to speak to his client.
The NFL in the past has fined players for such actions. Despite the clout he holds in league circles because of his marketing exposure and high profile, Vick almost certainly will be sanctioned, probably with a five-figure fine, by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in the coming days.
The incident will do nothing to enhance Vick's image in some quarters of this city, where his play often has a polarizing effect and where some fans hold him culpable for the Falcons' ongoing offensive struggles. Nor will it sit well with owner Arthur Blank, who frets about image almost as much as he does victories.
This latest incident comes two days after Blank met with his star quarterback to address another off-field issue -- the fallout surrounding comments made by NFL analyst Jim Mora Sr., the father of Falcons coach Jim Mora Jr. Last week, the elder Mora agreed with an assessment of Vick as a "coach-killer" and Blank wanted to make sure Vick would not hold Atlanta's coach accountable for his father's comments.
Sunday was, for sure, another difficult day for Vick and the spasmodic Atlanta offense. Although the mercurial quarterback weaved through New Orleans' defense for 166 rushing yards on only a dozen carries, sometimes running away from pursuers on scrambles and on other occasions gashing the Saints with designed runs, the much-maligned Falcons' passing game again came up short.
For the second week in a row, the Falcons managed fewer than 100 net yards passing, finishing with a miniscule 52 yards. Vick was sacked three times. At times he was characteristically scattershot and, on those occasions when he delivered the ball on target, his butter-fingered wideouts usually dropped it.
By unofficial count, the Falcons dropped five passes, probably costing them 100 yards. Roddy White, one of three former first-rounders playing receiver for the Falcons' (Ashley Lelie and Michael Jenkins are the others) dropped what looked like a certain touchdown pass in the third quarter with Atlanta trailing 21-13. One Falcons assistant coach was seen sprinting up the sideline screaming animatedly at the player.
It didn't take much prodding for Vick to all but acknowledge after the game that the countless drops by his receivers this season are beginning to frustrate him.
"It is tough," Vick said. "I am just doing my job by giving guys the chance to have some success. And somewhere along the line, guys are going to have to start catching the ball and making some plays."
As justifiable as Vick's remarks were, it will be interesting to see how they sell in the Atlanta locker room, where the quarterback is regarded by some as being a little too me-first.
The reputation of the Falcons' receivers as having poor hands, though, was acknowledged even in the New Orleans locker room. Saints cornerback Mike McKenzie laughed when asked if he had even seen so many dropped passes, then noted diplomatically: "Let's just say those guys, uh, had a tough day."
Ever-candid Saints wide receiver Joe Horn was more direct.
"This is a league," Horn said, "where if you don't do your job, they run your ass off. Those guys better wake up and smell the coffee and start catching the damned football. I can't blame [Vick] for, you know, being upset at them sometimes."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer at ESPN.com.