On practice days for the Atlanta Falcons, there is an invisible halo somewhere above quarterback Michael Vick's helmet.
It might sound a little like the story about the emperor who has no clothes, but the halo has been in place since the day Vick came to Atlanta in 2001.
"His was a 4-yard halo: `Do not touch No. 7,' " said Carolina Panthers linebacker Chris Draft, who spent the past five seasons with Atlanta. "They'd make sure at the beginning of camp to throw a nice little circle around him and say, `Stay away from him.' "
Not once did Draft slip up and hit Vick?
"No, no, no," Draft said. "That might have got me out of Atlanta a lot sooner.''
Cynics could say Draft, who could get his second straight start if the injured Dan Morgan (ankle) is unable to play Sunday against the Falcons, came to the right place. The Panthers certainly haven't had much luck hitting Vick, even though the halo rule doesn't apply.
The Panthers are 0-5 in games when they've played the Falcons with Vick as the starting quarterback. Against Carolina, Vick has rushed 74 times for 439 yards and completed 74 of 127 passes for 954 yards and four touchdowns.
Vick's running has given the Panthers fits, and Draft isn't giving away any secrets when he talks about strategy for Sunday's game at Bank of America Stadium.
"We've got to make sure he's pinned in and make him throw the ball," Draft said. "He's got a cannon, but we've got to make him throw the ball."
The concept sounds nice, but the Panthers have had problems executing it against Vick. To complicate matters, the quarterback who made his name with his feet suddenly has developed into a more effective pocket passer. In the past three games, Vick has completed 52 of 90 passes for 661 yards and six touchdowns.
That's by design. The Falcons have used first-round picks on receivers in each of the last two drafts and have worked to make a more consistent pocket passer.
"He's progressed much like any young quarterback," Panthers coach John Fox said. "It's a comfort level. The more you do it, the better you get."
The Panthers are aware Vick is probably more of a threat as a passer than he's ever been. But he's also teamed with running back Warrick Dunn to give the Falcons the league's top-ranked rushing offense.
Maybe Vick has more polished tools than in the past, but Draft said he hasn't noticed a dramatic change in the quarterback, and Carolina's game plan needs to be simple.
"He looks real similar," Draft said. "They run the same offense. They're running Warrick and they're sticking with him a little bit more.
"They've got away from the running-back controversy they had for a while. We've just got to stop the run and really try to pin Mike in and make him throw the ball."