FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. Aaron Brooks has given second cousin Michael Vick plenty of advice in the past 10 months. Not so this week.
Brooks, the starting quarterback for the New Orleans Saints, and Vick, Atlanta's backup quarterback to Chris Chandler, are preparing to face each other Sunday at the Louisiana Superdome.
"I told him last week he's on his own," Brooks said Wednesday. "We're trying to win this game. It's tough being in the same division."
Brooks and Vick, both of whom were born and raised in Newport News, Va., share a lot of personal history. But their teams are heading in opposite directions.
The Saints (3-1) have won two straight and are the defending NFC West champions.
Led by running back Ricky Williams, who has rushed for 283 yards in the last two games, New Orleans has the NFL's fourth-best rushing offense. The Saints are also fourth in total defense, allowing an average of 265.5 yards.
The Falcons (2-3) have lost two straight and are 11-25 since the start of 1999. Atlanta ranks last in the league in total defense (388.2) and pass defense (289.8).
Vick, 21, knows he'll spend more time watching Brooks, 25, this week than vice versa. As he has all season, Falcons coach Dan Reeves will try to give Vick, the NFL's No. 1 draft pick, a series or two against the Saints.
It didn't work last week. Chandler played the entire game as the Falcons lost to San Francisco 37-31 in overtime. In a 31-3 loss to Chicago the week before, Chandler suffered a mild concussion and missed the second half. Vick looked good in passing situations, completing 12 of 18 for 186 yards, but he lost two fumbles.
"The speed at this game has caught me by surprise," said Vick, who outran opponents in leading Virginia Tech to national prominence the last two years. "The guys at this level move a whole faster than the guys in college. Some things I could do in the past, I can't do now. I realized that two weeks ago."
Brooks' NFL experience has been nothing like his cousin's. Brooks, a fourth-round draft pick by Green Bay in 1999, did not play as a rookie.
"Less pressure, man," he said. "I didn't have to deal with all the people putting all the hype and expectations on me. I was just grinding my way through. I was able to sit back and learn and understand and let people get to know me as a person instead of people judging me and putting expectations right on me from the start like they did Michael, like they're doing Michael."
Brooks and Vick grew up in the same neighborhood. Money was scarce. They lived in low-rent housing. People all around them, particularly grown men, had given up.
They can't recall dreaming one day they'd be playing against each other in the NFL.
"Never thought it would happen," Vick said.
Added Brooks, "No, where we come from, it's a slim-to-none chance of getting out of there, thinking you're going to be successful. There's so much negativity going around, and at that level we were surrounded by it so much."
They leaned on each other, family members and close friends. Both were regulars at the Hampton Roads Boys & Girls Club, where they honed their quarterbacking skills.
Brooks went to Virginia, where he started his final two years and was 16-7. In training camp last year, Green Bay traded him to New Orleans, which promoted him to starter in Week 11 after Jeff Blake injured his foot and was lost for the season.
Brooks went 3-2 to help the Saints win the NFC West. He was 1-1 in the playoffs, finishing with an NFL-best 92.0 quarterback rating.
Brooks, who has completed 75 of 153 passes for 890 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions, beat out Blake for the starting job in the preseason. He knows Vick will watch every move he makes on the field Sunday.
"I think it's important for me to exemplify what it takes to be an NFL quarterback," Brooks said. "And that's playing the game with respect, showing him the maturity level it needs to be played on. There's not much more I can teach him at this point. He's a grown man now. He's in the NFL. He understands what's going on. My job is just to be a guiding light for him."