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Vick in treatment; Abraham has thumb surgery
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FLOWERY BRANCH — Atlanta Falcons coach Jim Mora believes quarterback Michael Vick and defensive end John Abraham will start Sunday against the Carolina Panthers even though both players have significant injuries.
    Abraham underwent surgery Monday to have a pin placed in his left thumb after he tore ligaments in a loss to the Dallas Cowboys. According to Mora, Abraham will wear a cast and start against Carolina.
    Vick, who limped off the field on the Falcons’ final possession Saturday night with a groin injury, continues to undergo treatment at team headquarters.
    ‘‘Our guys are resilient,’’ Mora said. ‘‘They bounce back. They get re-focused. I am excited to get back to work on Wednesday.’’
    Atlanta (7-7) has lost three straight home games for the first time since Dan Reeves’ final season in 2003. The Panthers (6-8) dropped their fourth consecutive game overall last week with an embarrassing performance against Pittsburgh.
    Neither team has played well in NFC games. In their last seven matchups with conference opponents, the Falcons have four losses and Carolina five. Matt Schaub will start if Vick can’t.
    Before 2005, Atlanta had beaten the Panthers in eight of nine tries, but Carolina swept the division series last season. The Falcons won the season opener in Charlotte 20-6 behind Vick and Abraham.
    Vick improved his career record to 6-2 against the Panthers by completing 10 of 22 passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran seven times for 48 yards.
    Abraham earned his first NFC defensive player of the week honor with five solo tackles, two sacks for minus-20 yards, two forced fumbles and a pass breakup. Unfortunately, he strained a groin muscle late in the fourth quarter and played just one of the next eight games — a stretch during which he underwent abdominal surgery.
    Mora is encouraged that rookie Jerious Norwood, who didn’t dress against the Cowboys because of a knee injury, will be return to face the Panthers. Norwood, the No. 2 running back behind starter Warrick Dunn, has a 6.5 average in 84 carries.
    ‘‘We took him out before the game and worked him out, but he just wasn’t confident in his knee,’’ Mora said. ‘‘So with a young guy like that, when you really haven’t seen him push through something with an injury of that nature, the best thing to do is to hold him.’’
    Carolina has injury concerns, too. Starting quarterback Jake Delhomme told reporters Monday that he still can’t grip a football because of ligament damage in his right thumb. The Panthers are 0-2 this season with Chris Weinke at quarterback.
    Starting defensive end Mike Rucker tore a knee ligament against the Steelers and will not return until next season. Entering Week 16, however, Falcons fullback Justin Griffith expects contending teams like Carolina, which advanced to the Super Bowl in 2003 and the NFC title game last year, to compensate effectively for losing Rucker.
    ‘‘When my ankle got messed up and I went on IR two years ago, I remember worrying a little bit about our situation,’’ Griffith said. ‘‘Then we lost Stanley Pritchett and George Layne before Fred (McCrary) came in here and did a great job for us. Good teams find a way to keep rolling.’’
    Atlanta visits Philadelphia, which won at New York to take a one-game lead over the Giants for the first of two wild-card spots, in Week 17. The Falcons have the same record as New York, but the Giants would win a tiebreaker after beating Atlanta earlier this year.
    ‘‘There are so many playoff scenarios that are confusing, but Dallas, Philadelphia, the Giants and us basically vying for three spots, so it’s going to come down to the very end,’’ Mora said. ‘‘If we do that, you never know what will happen, and you never know what will happen if you end up getting in the tournament. So that will be our focus.’’