Vick's return to the Georgia Dome? A big ho-hum in Atlanta

The Atlanta Falcons knew this week could be filled with controversy. And man, are they thankful for Tiger Woods.

There is minimal -- minimal -- buzz regarding former franchise quarterback Michael Vick's return to Atlanta on Sunday as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles. It wasn't supposed to be like this.

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When Vick signed with Philadelphia after his release from prison and home confinement, stores couldn't keep Vick's No. 7 Eagles jerseys on the racks in Atlanta. Tickets to this game moved faster than Chris Johnson and talk radio airwaves had their meters move just as they did during the months of divisive uncertainty before Vick finally confessed to his role in federal dog fighting charges in 2007.

The emotions, once again, were polarizing, with Vick's supporters bragging about how he's going to come back and make Atlanta regret turning its back on him. Others were going to don their No. 2 Matt Ryan jerseys and stand steadfast defending the team, its new quarterback and how the franchise overall is better off without that dog killer who never was a "real" quarterback.

Tensions were high. Now, they are pretty much non-existent.

I live in Atlanta and I covered this story as the Falcons beat writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution from the front lines before joining, so I know the hostility this issue has wrought. I've felt it. I've lived it.

I'm not feeling it now.

Vick's return has been the biggest non-story of the year in Atlanta, a far cry from expectations of projected sidewalk riots and fears of a Georgia Dome uprising. Don't think that those projections a few months ago were far-fetched or idiotic either. Knowing how Vick's fall pulled this city apart, I had some of those same thoughts myself.

The main reason why this story has been minimized is because Vick has been minimized. He's touched the ball 24 times for a total of 71 yards (six passing) for the Eagles. He hasn't elicited the threat of coming back to Atlanta and adding 10 highlights to his lengthy footage of dazzling plays -- during all of which he's wearing a Falcons uniform.

I spoke to two local sports-talk hosts from two different stations this week to ask about Vick traffic. Both told me that there hasn't been any. Tiger Woods and the SEC championship game, which will be played between Florida and Alabama on Saturday at the Georgia Dome, have been the topics of discussion.

Vick actually rated behind the particulars of the game itself: Those being that Atlanta will be without Ryan and Michael Turner, and have to face a quarterback in Donovan McNabb -- not Vick -- who could shred them.

Now, that's not saying that there isn't going to be some emotions and jaw-jacking at the game between fans. Vick's supporters are going to be out in force, as will Falcons fans. But don't expect a ton of action when the Eagles come running out of the tunnel upon introductions. In fact, there might not be that much static when Vick takes the field for the first time -- if he takes the field.

Falcons' fans are the latest arriving fans in the league. The Georgia Dome doesn't get near capacity until late in the first quarter and that goes back to when Vick made attending Falcons games must-see theatre.

Reading between the lines

While the biggest transaction coming from Atlanta on Tuesday was the release of standout veteran kicker Jason Elam, a footnote item -- the re-signing of quarterback D.J. Shockley to the practice squad -- could provide bigger news in the coming days. Atlanta brought back Shockley, a third-year backup who was released this season, as an insurance move in case Ryan's turf toe doesn't heal quickly or proves serious enough to where he needs to be shut down.

If Ryan has to be shut down, Shockley, a local product and fan favorite who knows the system, could be promoted to the active roster to back up Chris Redman and John Parker Wilson.

The Falcons making this move with Shockley now shows that there is some concern about Ryan's turf toe injury. The team is saying he will be evaluated through this week and early next week and the feeling is that the ultra-competitive Ryan wants to get back for the Falcons' Dec. 13 home game against NFC South-leading New Orleans.

A loss to Philadelphia this weekend could hasten Ryan's desire to return that much more because the Falcons would probably have to win their remaining four games -- New Orleans, New York Jets, Buffalo, Tampa Bay -- to return to the playoffs.

Rice is Ravens' crackle and pop

Quarterback Joe Flacco and linebacker Ray Lewis are the faces of the Ravens, but neither strikes fear into opponents the way second-year running back Ray Rice has. The diminutive speedster has 1,403 yards from the line of scrimmage (61 receptions for 582 yards) and has turned himself into the object of opposing teams' defensive game plan.

A coach I spoke with this week told me that more and more teams set their sights on locating, tracking and tackling Rice -- and limiting his touches -- in order to keep the Ravens in check. In fact, the goal of one team is to force Flacco to throw the ball on the edges -- even deep -- rather than to have the ball in Rice's hands.

Baltimore's showdown with Green Bay on Monday night is huge for both teams in terms of playoff rights and, based on what I've heard, I'd expect the improving Packers to commit at least one player to Rice at all times and let Mr. Do Everything, Charles Woodson, be the cleanup man elsewhere on the field.

A.P. still the course du jour

As well as Vikings quarterback Brett Favre has played, the NFC West-leading Arizona Cardinals head into Sunday's game with Minnesota worried about tailback Adrian Peterson.

"It's no different than any other team in the NFL, in terms of stopping the run, but we'd rather focus on keeping him in check and have their outside guys try to deal with our corners," Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson said.

There's a reason why the Cardinals are so locked in on Peterson, other than the obvious. This is the third straight week they've faced one of the NFL's top running backs, with St. Louis' Steven Jackson and Tennessee's Chris Johnson being the appetizers. That tandem combined for 270 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

"Facing them doesn't do much to improve your ranking against the run," Wilson joked.

Seriously, though, Wilson said the Cardinals' defense is smarting from the Titans driving 99 yards on them in the final minutes to rally to a 20-17 victory.

"That last game better be a wake-up call," Wilson said. "When you have a team drive 99 yards and score, it should have opened up a lot of eyes."

Gradkowski's impact

The biggest difference the Raiders have noticed since inserting Bruce Gradkowski as the starting quarterback in place of JaMarcus Russell: Gradkowski is throwing the ball downfield -- and to the wide receivers. One of the reasons Russell lost his job is that he was locked in on the tight end, almost exclusively.

Since Gradkowski took over, wide receivers Darius Heyward-Bey, Chaz Schilens and Louis Murphy have been targeted 34 times in two games. The ball hasn't always gotten there or caught when it has, but getting the ball downfield is the "Raider Way" and that is why Gradkowski is in and Russell is out.

Wyche's winners

Here are my picks for Week 13: Eagles hand the Falcons their first home loss, Bucs over Panthers, Rams beat Chicago, Tigers (Cincy) over the Lions, Colts stay unbeaten and end Titans' run, Houston wins at Jacksonville, Broncos win a close one over the Chiefs, New England rebounds against Miami, Pittsburgh drubs Oakland, the Saints survive the Redskins, Chargers beat the Browns, the Cowboys upend the Giants, 49ers defeat the Seahawks, and the Packers win at home against Baltimore.

Upset of the week

The Cardinals over the Vikings in the desert.

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