FOXBOROUGH -- Willie McGinest's answer to the question came in a matter-of-fact tone.
The question: Do you consider Michael Vick to be in the category of elite NFL quarterbacks, with the likes of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning?
''No, I don't. Nope, absolutely not," McGinest said.
Ah, but there is a rub.
McGinest puts the Falcons star, who the Patriots face Sunday in Atlanta, in a category all his own.
''Vick is different than every other quarterback you'll face," McGinest said.
Vick doesn't often stand in the pocket and pick defenses apart like Manning and Brady, however, they can't do what he does and they don't have what he has: the ability to outrun every defensive player on the field.
That is why McGinest says Vick is an elite runner, but not an elite quarterback.
Rankings may be important in sport, but many find it difficult to place Vick among the quarterbacking greats because he isn't the prototypical signal-caller.
''Michael Vick is a great player," Brady said. ''He has unbelievable skill and elusiveness. He's been to Pro Bowls. Has a great arm, moves well. They win a lot of games with him.
''He is a great player. I'll leave it at that. There's a lot of ways to get it done. My strengths are different from Michael Vick's strengths, certainly. Peyton's are different from mine. The idea of comparing those is hard to me because I realize how difficult it is for me to get it done. Some things might come easier for me and come harder for Mike, and vice versa. There's a lot of great players, and certainly Mike's one of them."
Translation: Vick is not a standard quarterback.
But Brady doesn't hem and haw when asked if he would like to be able to run like Vick, who has two of the top four rushing seasons by a quarterback in NFL history.
''Oh, yeah," Brady said with a smile. ''I wouldn't have to worry about all those blitzes and all that. I'd just run away from everybody."
As fast as any player in the league, and as elusive as any ballcarrier, Vick presents a special challenge to a defense. There is one accepted approach to keeping him in check. ''We want to make him a one-dimensional player," McGinest said. ''We want to make him throw the ball. We don't want him running around the field. He destroys everybody when he does that."
Vick has dealt with the perception that he is not a particularly good passer since coming into the league as the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2001. ''Everyone looks at him as a runner instead of a guy who sits in the pocket," Falcons running back Warrick Dunn said. ''This year, he's been sitting in the pocket a little bit more and making some nice passes. But he has to also get consistent with his passes and he knows that, but he's always going to get criticized for something."
Criticism may remain, but there is noticeable improvement.
''He's definitely displayed his accuracy and his arm strength this season," Patriots linebacker Chad Brown said. ''He's been able to make some plays that I don't think he would have made in the past. So he's improving as a passer, for sure."
Still, Vick is just 30th in the league in passing yards (495), while Brady is third with 1,172. And Brady has twice as many touchdown passes as Vick (four to two).
But Vick's passer rating (83.0) is not that far from Brady's (86.3), and most importantly, his team is 3-1 to Brady's 2-2.
Among active quarterbacks with at least 35 starts, Brady has the league's top winning percentage (.758 with a 50-16 mark). Vick is fourth on that list with a 26-13 record (.667).
New England's backup quarterback, Doug Flutie, who has been playing the role of Vick this week in practice, says wins and losses are the statistics Vick should be measured by. Other mobile quarterbacks have succeeded in the NFL, but according to Flutie, Vick is unlike any other.
''Michael Vick is the one guy that I think from Day 1 when he stepped on the field, that even if he was unsure of himself within an offense, he was so athletic that he could still make plays," Flutie said. ''I never thought at this level you could get away with just being an athlete at quarterback. Michael Vick is the exception to that rule.
''Now he's a few years in and more comfortable with reads and delivering the ball, which makes him scary. But from Day 1, when he was uncertain of that stuff, he was still winning games because he was the most phenomenal athlete on the field."
Yet the Patriots say they are not concentrating solely on Vick.
The Falcons have the NFL's top rushing offense by a wide margin. Atlanta averages 209 yards a game on the ground, more than 50 yards better than San Diego, which rushed for 183 yards in a win over the Patriots last Sunday.
Vick (233 rushing yards, 7.3-yard average) is a key figure in that attack, though Dunn (394 yards on 70 carries) leads the team in rushing.
''We're not going to game-plan for just one guy," McGinest said. ''We don't do that, no matter who we're playing against. We didn't do it when we played against [Oakland receiver Randy] Moss, we didn't do that when we played against Terrell Owens."
The Patriots did not do a particularly good job against either of those receivers -- Owens in the Super Bowl and Moss in this year's season opener -- but won both games.
Jerome Solomon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org