DETROIT -- Michael Vick took his Atlanta Falcons for a test drive through Ford Field yesterday, steering his team back on to the fast pavement.
Whether that road leads back to the Motor City for Super Bowl XL may well depend on how the superstar quarterback handles the wheel over the next 10 weeks.
Scrambling in, out and around the pocket, a vintage Vick show led to a 27-7 win over the lousy Lions.
A Thanksgiving-sized helping of the slop the home team put on the field was about what the Falcons needed at this point in a mixed-up season. After two home losses in which they gave up a combined 62 points, Atlanta had slipped to 6-4.
As a result, the NFC finalists from a year ago, find themselves in a battle just to make the playoffs, trailing both the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Bucs in the NFC South.
But more afternoons like yesterday in which Vick's mobility and a powerful offensive line created a lethal ground attack, and the Falcons will be dangerous down the stretch.
"Those guys do a great job up front," Vick said of his offensive line. "They allow me to make some plays with my arm and with my feet."
Which, of course, is when Vick is at his most dangerous and validates the buzz the NFL marketing machine has created around him.
In this his fifth NFL season, two of which he spent most of the time injured, Vick is starting to mature into his position. He showed several glimpses yesterday, the best of which was on one of two touchdown passes to tight end Alge Crumpler.
Darting out of the pocket, Vick kept the Lions defenders huffing in pursuit while patiently waiting for Crumpler to get open in the end zone.
In focussing on Vick, the Lions defence left gaping holes for Warrick Dunn (116 yards) and T.J. Duckett (72 yards) in a rushing game that rolled up a combined 256 yards.
After the game in which he completed 12 of 22 attempts for 126 yards and ran for 57 yards of his own, Vick suggested he is more comfortable than he has been at any point in his career.
"Last year (when the Falcons lost 17-10 to the Lions), it was just my fifth game in the West Coast offence," Vick said. "I have over 20 games now and that is carrying me a long way."
As if they needed it, the Falcons also got a strong defensive effort with a pair of interceptions and a fumble recovery.
They hope such balance will carry them back here on Feb. 5th.
Four of their final games are against teams that currently have at least a share of their division lead.
The less said the better about the Lions, who at 4-7 have a record that flatters them. Their failure to compete yesterday made sure the sellout crowd was home in time for turkey and allowed Vick to rest for most of the fourth quarter.
"It was ugly and it was embarrassing," said quarterback Joey Harrington, who was replaced by Jeff Garcia before the half.
The Lions have now lost four of their past five Thanksgiving Day games.
Which is fine for the Falcons, who weren't about to allow a short week, a two-game losing streak and a road game distort the fact that they were the far superior team.
Falcons coach Jim Mora couldn't have said it better: "This is just what the doctor ordered."