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Eagles' Vick set for high-stakes return to Atlanta

Sep 15, 2011, 12:02 p.m.
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick throws a pass during the first half of their NFL football game in St. Louis, Missouri, September 11, 2011. REUTERS/Sarah Conard

By Simon Evans

MIAMI (Reuters) - Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick is not counting on much love from the crowd when he visits his former Atlanta Falcons team for the first time as a starter in a matchup of two clubs with Super Bowl hopes.

Once a Falcons fan favorite, an exciting talent expected to lead the team to glory, Vick left Atlanta in shame to serve a prison sentence for his involvement in a dog-fighting ring and was barely used in a back-up role with Philadelphia when he first returned to the Georgia Dome in 2009.

But after his outstanding comeback last year, where he grabbed the Eagles starting role and delivered some astounding performances, Vick heads south with a new $100 million deal in his pocket and the responsibility of leading Philadelphia to the success they have craved for so long.

Vick received plenty of cheers in his first game back at Atlanta, throwing for a touchdown and running in for another in limited action, but there is no telling what the reaction will be this time from Falcons fans who feel their team has realistic Super Bowl ambitions.

While Falcons supporters hope to avoid an 0-2 start to the National Football League (NFL) season, a hostile reception for Vick on Sunday would be a surprise as there are likely to be many Atlanta supporters in the Georgia Dome who still have affection for the quarterback and the feeling is mutual.

"I still have a lot of love for the fans down there, but keep in mind I am with the opposition now," said Vick.

"I don't expect it to be in my favor due to the fact that I'm out there full time, but we'll see. That's the fun part of the game and we're just going to enjoy the day."

In six seasons with the Falcons, who took him from Virginia Tech with the top pick in the 2001 draft, Vick was an exciting but inconsistent talent - his outstanding athleticism capable of producing moments of excitement but his youthful exuberance sometimes resulting in misjudgment.

In Philadelphia, while still keeping his ability to run with the ball, Vick has transformed into a more orthodox quarterback willing to play it safe when he needs to.

"Maturity has been something that I think has been the biggest reason why I'm able to accomplish the things that I've been able to accomplish today," said Vick. "Just being older, with age comes the maturation process. Everything just happens in time."

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan needed less time to mature, showing impressive composure even as a rookie, but he enters Sunday's game having to go up against the old crowd favorite and at the head of a team coming off a disappointing defeat to Chicago in their season opener.

The second week of the NFL season offers some real tests for some of those who impressed in the opening round of games.

Chicago likely spent little time savoring their win as they needed to begin preparations for their road game against Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.

Carolina Panthers rookie quarterback Cam Newton made an instant impact on Sunday - throwing for a rookie record 422 yards and two touchdowns, as well as rushing another touchdown - in a losing effort to the Arizona Cardinals.

But the plaudits for the top pick in this year's NFL draft have come with the caveat that he has the test of the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers on Sunday.

The Washington Redskins, and often maligned quarterback Rex Grossman, enjoyed a positive opening day against the New York Giants and they will have to prove that was not a fluke when they face a solid-looking Cardinals squad.

The pressure is also on several other week one losers, particularly the Pittsburgh Steelers and Indianapolis Colts, who must recover from poor starts before slipping out of contention in their respective divisions.

(Editing by Frank Pingue)

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