Vick turns boos into cheers in return to Atlanta

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Michael Vick, booted off the Falcons for his dog-fighting involvement, turned boos into cheers at his Atlanta homecoming Sunday and may be poised to contribute to the Philadelphia Eagles drive to the playoffs.

Vick ran for a 5-yard touchdown in the third quarter of the Eagles' 34-7 victory, for his first score in more than three years and tossed a 5-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter for his first significant contributions of the season.

Boos mixed with cheers when Vick, who served 18 months in federal prison for his role in a dog fighting ring, came on the field for his first appearance back at the Georgia Dome where he once thrived as the highest paid player in the NFL and the face of the Atlanta franchise.

By the end of the game, fans were cheering for him and chanting his name, hoping to see more of Vick on the field.

"It was as loud as it gets in the Dome," Vick told reporters. "I heard the chants all through the stadium and it sent chills down my spine. They were just letting me know that people still appreciate what I've done."

Vick signed this summer to play with the Eagles but had been slow to factor in the team's offense behind starting quarterback Donovan McNabb, who has led the club to an 8-4 record and a share of first place in the NFC East.

Philadelphia coach Andy Reid said the Atlanta game was a great opportunity for Vick.

"It was good to get Michael involved the way that he did. It was an emotional time for him," Reid told a news conference on Monday. "I thought he handled himself with a lot of poise.

"He had a chance to talk to the team afterward and thank them for the opportunity and the support."

Reid said McNabb was very supportive of Vick.

"My hat's off to Donovan because Donovan led the charge on this whole thing," said Reid. "And also during the game, getting him in there and wanting him to have a little success.

NEVER FORGET

Reid, whose Eagles visit the New York Giants (7-5) this Sunday in a pivotal NFC East contest, would not tip his hand about whether Vick would continue to get more play time.

"We'll see how it goes. I'm not going to say one way or another," offered Reid. "He's done everything we've asked him to do."

For Vick, the return to Atlanta was special.

"I'll never forget this day. I'll never forget arriving yesterday. I'll never forget seeing a lot of landmarks that I used to see when I used to live in this city for six years.

"I'll never forget shedding a tear on the bus ride over here this morning because I took that route every Sunday to come here and play."

Vick said he hoped his comeback could provide a lesson.

"I want this to be an inspiring story for a lot for kids and our youth," he told reporters. "To know that things may happen but you have to persevere, you have to overcome adversity.

"That's what I want our kids, our youth, to know that if you keep pressing forward, eventually things will happen for you. You have to keep the faith and believe in yourself."

(additional reporting by Steve Ginsburg in Washington)

(Writing by Larry Fine in New York, Editing by Pritha Sarkar)