Redskins

Falcons say it's no big deal to face Michael Vick

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Falcons say it's no big deal to face Michael Vick

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Michael Vick will always be a part of the Atlanta Falcons.

They were the team that drafted him No. 1 overall. They were the team he made hip and relevant in the NFL. They were the team he left in disarray with his hideous hobby.

But it's no longer a big deal to face their former quarterback.

The Falcons have moved on.

``There's probably only a handful of guys left here that played with Mike,'' said his successor as Atlanta's quarterback, Matt Ryan. ``I think we're probably a little bit beyond that at this point.''

Indeed, the Falcons have put the Vick era in the rearview mirror, quickly rebuilding from the mess he caused with an unprecedented run of success - at least in the regular season. They have strung together four straight winning records, three playoff appearances and a division title since No. 7 left town.

And now, heading into Sunday's game against Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles, the Falcons (6-0) are more focused on what the future might hold than what happened in the past. They are off to the franchise's best start ever, the only undefeated team left in the NFL and intent on settling for nothing less than Atlanta's first Super Bowl championship.

Center Todd McClure, who once snapped the ball to Vick and now does the same with Ryan, feels the team has recaptured that feeling of excitement, that feeling of importance it had with its previous quarterback.

Only this time, it's different.

``It's not based off one guy,'' McClure said. ``There's a buzz about this whole team. ``

The Vick-led Falcons sure had their moments. They were the first visiting team ever to win a playoff game at Green Bay's Lambeau Field. They reached the NFC championship game for only the second time in team history.

But that was viewed largely as a one-man show, a team that only went as far as wondrous quarterback could take it. When Vick thrived, the Falcons usually won. When he struggled, they almost always lost. It was a thrilling yet exhausting ride, a team that largely followed the ebbs and flows of a single, one-of-a-kind player.

Not anymore.

While Ryan has put himself on the cusp of being one of the NFL's elite quarterbacks, he's surrounded by plenty of weapons - deep threats Roddy White and Julio Jones, future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez, bruising runner Michael Turner. The defense isn't too shabby, either. Ageless John Abraham keeps the heat on opposing quarterbacks, young Sean Weatherspoon has already developed into a top linebacker, and everyone in the secondary - from Asante Samuel to Thomas DeCoud - is getting a hand on the ball.

Which has made this latest meeting against Vick and the Eagles seem like just another game, just another step along the way to the ultimate goal.

``Just us against them,'' White said.

McClure, White and Abraham are among just five players remaining from Vick's time with the Falcons (the others are offensive tackle Tyson Clabo and defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux). The massive turnover - not to mention a new coach (Mike Smith) and new general manager (Thomas Dimitroff) - has largely broken whatever hold Vick might've had on the team after he went to prison in 2007 for operating a dogfighting ring.

Besides, the Falcons have faced the Eagles every season since Vick signed with them in 2009. He was a backup for the initial meeting in Atlanta, and didn't play the following year in Philadelphia because of an injury. The Georgia Dome was filled with No. 7 jerseys when he returned last season for the first time as the Eagles' starter, but Ryan stole the show with four touchdowns passes in a 35-31 victory. Vick didn't even make to the end, wobbling off the field with a concussion late in the third quarter.

``Last year, going back to Atlanta, that was special. That added a little bit to the game,'' Vick said on a teleconference. ``But now, it's just two good football teams going head to head. It's going to be a good football game, but there's nothing extra added to it. I'm not getting more amped up for this game than any other game.''

Besides, Vick has bigger concerns than poking his former team.

Two straight losses have rattled the Eagles (3-3), who already fired their defensive coordinator and have hinted other changes might be coming. If Vick doesn't do a better job protecting the football - he's had eight interceptions and lost five fumbles - he'll soon be watching games from the bench.

``I never doubt myself. I'm always confident in myself,'' Vick insisted, sounding a lot like he did during his prime years in Atlanta. ``Even the turnovers I've had, it's because I'm so confident in what I'm doing.''

Vick and White remain close. They've already exchanged good-natured texts - Vick asking the Falcons receiver to drop a few passes, White suggesting that No. 7 throw a few more interceptions - but that's about the only link the quarterback still has to his former team.

Yet Vick will always be a big part of Falcons' history.

``He did a lot of good things when he was here,'' White remembered. ``He excited the city ... and he won a lot of games. He won some playoff games, too.''

If it sounds like White is taking a poke at his current quarterback - Ryan is 0-3 in the postseason - he's not. This is more about a team that's secure about the present and no longer feels threatened by the guy who was here before.

``Matt has kind of taken over and run with it,'' White said. ``He's kind of given the city that spark again, that spark we had when we had Mike. We're rolling right now.''

Yep, they've moved on.

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberr1963

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Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Jay Gruden shown no love in preseason coaches ranking

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USA Today Sports

Jay Gruden shown no love in preseason coaches ranking

Yahoo! Sports ranked all 32 head coaches in the NFL and Washington Redskins fans may not be too happy with where Jay Gruden ended up.

Entering his fifth year as head coach, Gruden was ranked as the No. 27 head coach in the NFL. Here's Yahoo!'s rationale behind his ranking:

"Four years, one playoff berth, one plus-.500 season, one franchise quarterback run out of town."

All that is ... not false, but the whole franchise quarterback being run out of town thing is at least debatable. And even if the ranking is fair, it's still okay to be upset because it's the middle of July, training camp hasn't started yet and the offseason is the perfect time to get irrationally angry about things like these.

Elsewhere in the NFC, Giants head coach Pat Shurmur checks in at No. 23, Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett is No. 17 and the Eagles' Doug Pederson is No. 2.

Unsurprisingly, Bill Belichick was ranked No. 1; he may be the greatest of all time when all is said and done, if not already. The top five rounds out with Pederson at No. 2, New Orleans's Sean Payton at No. 3, Minnesota's Mike Zimmer at No. 4 and Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin at No. 5.

MORE REDSKINS NEWS:

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Stroman pitches 7 sharp innings as Blue Jays beat Orioles 4-1

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USA Today Sports

Stroman pitches 7 sharp innings as Blue Jays beat Orioles 4-1

TORONTO (AP) -- Blue Jays right-hander Marcus Stroman gave up hits to the first three Baltimore batters Saturday.

The Orioles got just two more hits the rest of the afternoon.

Stroman pitched seven sharp innings for his second win in three starts and Toronto beat Baltimore 4-1 for its sixth straight victory over the struggling Orioles.

"He started working both sides of the plate with his sinker and I think that threw them off a little bit, especially late in counts," Blue Jays catcher Luke Maile said. "Overall it was just kind of vintage Stroman."

Baltimore right-hander Alex Cobb picked up his major league-worst 13th loss. The Orioles dropped to 1-8 against Toronto this season.

"I absolutely hate seeing that win-loss in parentheses next to my name," Cobb said. "It's sickening."

Stroman (3-7) allowed one run and five hits. He threw a season-high 107 pitches, the first time this season he has topped 100.

Stroman is 3-2 with a 3.03 ERA in five starts since returning from a shoulder injury that caused him to miss more than a month. He went 0-5 in seven starts before the injury.

"Since he's come back from the DL he's been really good," manager John Gibbons said. "I just think he's pitching like he's always pitched."

Stroman said he's focused on forgetting his early season struggles.

"I know I didn't have the first half I wanted but I've always been someone who prides myself on the second half and finishing strong," Stroman said. "That's something I'll look to continue to do this year."

Friend and teammate Devon Travis likes what he's seen from Stroman since the right-hander returned from injury.

"He's got that fire back," Travis said. "He's really under control. I think he's locking in on every single pitch."

Seunghwan Oh worked the eighth and Ryan Tepera finished for his seventh save in 12 opportunities.

Baltimore scored one run or fewer for the 27th time, the most in the majors.

The first three Orioles batters all singled, although Jonathan Schoop was thrown out trying to stretch his hit into a double. After Adam Jones gave Baltimore a 1-0 lead with an RBI hit to right, Mark Trumbo grounded into an inning-ending double play.

The Blue Jays answered with a three-run fourth against Cobb, taking advantage of a key Orioles error.

Justin Smoak opened the inning with a walk and, following a video review, was ruled safe at second after Cobb's high throw pulled shortstop Tim Beckham off the base on at attempted force play.

"That's not it in a nutshell but I can understand why that's the focus, a play we haven't been making," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said.

Randal Grichuk followed with an RBI double, a second run scored on Diaz's double play grounder, and Maile capped the rally with an RBI single.

Diaz had four hits Friday, including the game-winning single in the 10th. He went 2 for 3 Saturday with a pair of singles.

The Blue Jays made it 4-1 in the fifth when Teoscar Hernandez doubled, advanced on a fly ball and scored on Cobb's balk.

Cobb (2-13) lost his sixth straight decision, allowing four runs, one earned, and four hits in five innings. Showalter said Cobb was removed to avoid worsening a blister on his pitching hand.

"I was only going to have a few more pitches going into the sixth so he felt like the risk-reward was not really worth it," Cobb said.

Grichuk made the defensive play of the game, a running catch on the warning track in left center to retire Trumbo for the first out of the ninth.

GOING DOWN?

Jones and Chris Davis got stuck in an elevator at the team's downtown hotel following Friday night's defeat. Jones documented much of the saga on Instagram. The players and fellow passengers were eventually rescued by Toronto Fire Services staff. The sound system at Rogers Centre played a few bars of Aerosmith's `Love in an Elevator' before Jones batted in the fourth inning Saturday.

NO HOMERS

Toronto won without hitting a home run for just the third time in 26 games this season.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Orioles: Baltimore is expected to demote a reliever when RHP Andrew Cashner (neck) is activated off the 10-day disabled list Sunday.

UP NEXT

Cashner (2-9, 4.56) last pitched July 10, when he allowed five runs and five hits in 6 1-3 innings against the Yankees. Blue Jays LHP J.A. Happ (10-6, 4.29) is 0-3 with a 9.75 ERA in three July starts.