All week long, the Atlanta Falcons played a quarterback shell game leading into their October 9 matchup with the Patriots seven years ago.
Michael Vick's right knee was acting up, but Falcons coach Jim Mora Jr., knew the advantage of keeping Vick's availability under wraps.
Vick couldn't have been any more different in style from his backup, second-year player Matt Schaub. Vick lived on elusiveness; Schaub was a pocket passer.
Even though Vick didn't practice all week, he was listed as probable. On Saturday, he was downgraded to questionable. On Sunday, he watched from the sidelines wearing a sweatshirt and visor.
The Patriots, dealing with an avalanche of injuries in their secondary, were stressed preparing for both styles. And they didn't have a ton of film on Schaub.
At that point, Schaub had barely played in any games. As a rookie out of Virginia in 2004, he played extensively in two games when Vick was hurt and saw mop-up duty in three others. He'd thrown a touchdown and four picks.
Meanwhile, the Patriots were coming off a 41-17 pummeling at home at the hands of the San Diego Chargers. The gloating from the Chargers after snapping the Patriots 21-game home winning streak was sharp. "That's an ass-whupping right there," said Chargers defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.
When Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer diplomatically tried to say the Patriots weren't themselves that day because of all the injuries they had -- Rodney Harrison, for one, was lost for the season -- Tom Brady said that Schottenheimer should worry about his own team.
"You don't talk about our team," Brady said on the Wednesday before the Falcons game. "He has no business talking about our team. He's not our coach. We'll let our coach talk about our team. We'll let our players talk about our team. The only thing we ever do is give respect to the other teams because that's what they deserve. They played a good game. They beat us. That's what it is -- no more, no less -- it's one game."
It was classic, circle-the-wagons exhibition by Brady. For a team that had won two straight Super Bowls, keeping its edge by finding slights was a common pursuit. And the Patriots had found one heading to Atlanta.
But that didn't stop Schaub from going out that Sunday and earning himself a lot of money. Throwing against a secondary populated by the likes of Guss Scott, Duane Starks, and Michael Stone, Schaub went 18-for-34 for 298 yards and three touchdowns. The Patriots pulled out a 31-28 win as Tom Brady went off (22-for-27 for 350 and three TDs).
"He wasn't ready to play," Mora said of Vick. "It was an easy decision. When a player is not ready to play, you are not going to put him out there in harm's way. This team felt confident we could perform with Matt Schaub, and I think we proved that to be true."
In the end, sitting Vick was the best thing that could have happened for Schaub. At that point, the Patriots were the NFL's marquee team by a lot. And even though the Patriots were shorthanded, the attention Schaub garnered by playing well that day helped his stock rise significantly.
Schaub's usage was minimal during the rest of his time in Atlanta, but when he became a restricted free agent in 2007, the Texans -- who had grown weary of starter David Carr -- swung a deal for Schaub and made him their quarterback.
Now, five years down the line, Schaub will be facing the franchise that he got his big break against as he brings the 11-1 Texans into Foxboro.
Funny how things work out.