ATLANTA — Michael Vick and Matt Ryan met at the center of the field for the coin toss, the former Falcons quarterback embracing the guy who took his place.
When it was done, Ryan trotted off the field in triumph, leaving little doubt this is his city now.
Vick wasn’t even there to see it. He was back in the locker room, still woozy from a big hit.
Ryan tossed a career-high four touchdown passes, shaking off all the hoopla over Vick coming back to face his old team as Philadelphia’s starter, and rallied Atlanta from a 10-point deficit for a 35-31 victory over the Eagles in a Sunday night thriller.
“It was a wild one, for sure, but we hung in there,” Ryan said. “I think everybody hung in there and kept making plays, kept battling. Credit to guys on both sides of the ball — we never gave up.”
Two of Ryan’s TD throws went to ageless tight end Tony Gonzalez, who moved past Terrell Owens into the fifth spot on the NFL’s career receiving list. Then, Ryan hooked up with Ovie Mughelli on a 1-yard score that brought Atlanta to 31-28 with about 11 minutes remaining.
The Falcons (1-1) completed the comeback with Michael Turner breaking off a 61-yard run, then powering over from the 3 with 4:48 remaining. Turner finished with 114 yards on 21 carries.
Vick threw for a pair of touchdowns for the Eagles (1-1) but left with what coach Andy Reid later described as a concussion after getting spun by a Falcons rusher into Eagles lineman Todd Herremans. Vick staggered to the sideline, and Mike Kafka came in for the first game of his two-year career.
Vince Young, normally the backup, was inactive because of a hamstring injury. Now, the Eagles have to worry about Vick’s health, though he didn’t have to be hospitalized and was cleared to travel with the team back to Philadelphia.
“I know Mike is upset about (not finishing),” Kafka said. “When you’re hit like that, you can’t do anything about it. It’s out of his control.”
Kafka did a good job in a tough situation, guiding the Eagles down the field on a potentially winning drive in the closing minutes. But on fourth down from Atlanta’s 22, Jeremy Maclin dropped a pass over the middle that would have kept it going.
“I’m better than that,” Maclin said. “It was a very catchable ball.”
The Falcons ran off all but the last 15 seconds before punting, and Kafka’s desperation heave into the end zone was batted down to end the game.
The buildup for the prime-time contest was one of the biggest in years for a regular-season game in Atlanta. The Georgia Dome was packed and loud, many fans wearing Vick’s old No. 7 jersey from his Falcons days but plenty more adorned in Ryan’s No. 2.
In some ways, it seemed like a head-to-head matchup — even though they were never on the field at the same time. Vick was the one-of-a-kind quarterback who put the Falcons on the NFL map before he was caught running a dogfighting operation, leading to a prison sentence of nearly two years.
Banished by the Falcons, he revitalized his career in Philadelphia and earned another $100 million contract. He had returned to Atlanta once before, as a backup in 2009, but this was different. He’s now the leader for the Eagles, and he wanted to impress in front of his former city.
Instead, he had to settle for mixed results and an early end to his night. Vick fumbled twice and threw an interception, and the Falcons turned two of those mistakes into touchdowns.
Still, he had seemingly done enough when he left the field. Kafka came on and handed off to LeSean McCoy, who scored his second touchdown on a 2-yard run with 1:59 left in the third quarter. That gave Philadelphia a 31-21 lead before Ryan led Atlanta’s comeback.