Two weeks ago, Jim Mora lied. Last week, he admitted he lied.

It was a breakthrough moment. Most coaches lie about injuries – at best they dissemble. As far as anyone knows, the Atlanta coach’s admission, albeit sideways, is the first time someone has acknowledged it.

Here’s what happened.

On Oct. 9, Michael Vick injured a knee in a game against Minnesota.

“My feeling about Mike is that, whether he practices or not, he’s going to be fine come Sunday,” Mora said the next day. “Who knows with this kid? He might run out there and start practicing on Wednesday. I wouldn’t put it past him.”

A week later, after being “probable” on the official injury report until he was downgraded to “questionable” on Saturday, Vick sat against New England.

The next day, when Mora was asked about his status for the New Orleans game, he replied:

“I will tell you Wednesday,” Mora replied. ” … of course I told you that last week, too. Why would you ever believe me right now? I wouldn’t.”

Injury reports are considered extremely important by the NFL, a tool to prevent pregame deception by coaches who want to hide that a key player will miss a game. They require teams to report from Wednesday through Saturday whether a player is out, doubtful (25 percent chance of playing), questionable (50 percent), or probable (75 percent).

Before the 2004 season, commissioner Paul Tagliabue sent a memo to all teams tightening the requirements on reporting. Injury references had to be specific: not just “leg” or “arm” or “foot,” but where on the leg or arm of foot. It also required that a team list whether a player practiced or not.

Practices must be videotaped. If an unlisted player suddenly is out on Sunday, the league can review the tapes to see if he missed practice. If he did, the offending team can be fined for not listing him.

Nor is the league kidding. A couple of weeks ago, Indianapolis listed safety Bob Sanders with an “arm.” Team president Bill Polian said the Colts got a quick call: “What part of the arm?”

But in truth, there’s no real way to stop shenanigans, as the Vick episode demonstrates. Because he was on the list, albeit as “probable,” for most of the week, there was no violation.

“Everyone knew he was hurt,” league spokesman Greg Aiello said. “The main purpose of the injury report is to prevent injuries from being hidden. That part was no issue. He was on the list all week. He was listed for three days in a row as did not practice.”‘

OK, but don’t tell that to Bill Belichick, who fully expected him to play. The Patriots spent the week using wide receiver Bethel Johnson, their fastest player, to simulate Vick’s scrambles in practice. When they arrived in Atlanta, Vick was out and the QB was Matt Schaub, a standard dropback passer. Belichick was furious, even though the Patriots won 31-28. Last week, he pulled his own stunt – upgrading a raft of “questionables” to “probables” from Wednesday to Friday, then dropping them back down. The most important, defensive lineman Richard Seymour, didn’t play against Denver, and New England lost.

But Belichick is hardly faultless about injuries.

He has yet to say what’s wrong with offensive tackle Matt Light (“leg”) or running back Kevin Faulk (“foot”) who have been out for three weeks and will be out a lot longer. Nor has he specified what’s wrong with Rodney Harrison, who’s on injured reserve with torn knee ligaments – Harrison has talked about it, not the team.

Belichick also had this exchange this week about quarterback Tom Brady, who is always on the list, though has never missed a game or shown any indication of injury.

Question: “Why is Brady on the injury list every week?”

Belichick: “Why? Because he is slightly less than 100 percent.”

Question: “He’s been on it for a year-and-a-half now.”

Belichick: “I just report his physical condition. That’s all.”

The NFL is serious about enforcement, as Tagliabue’s letter and the call to the Colts demonstrates.

But it can’t keep coaches from lying, er, obfuscating.

Yes, the lists deceive. Coaches will keep lying and the NFL will be unable to stop them from bending the truth.

DIRTY DOZEN: The top six and bottom six teams based on current level of play:

1. Indianapolis (6-0). Thanks to Cato June and Robert Mathis as much as Manning, James, Harrison and Freeney. Then a big gap to …

2. Denver (5-1). But four of the five straight wins were at home.

3. Seattle (4-2). Another team that needs to prove itself on the road.

4. Cincinnati (5-1). Only because of the record. Big test against Pittsburgh.

5. Philadelphia (3-2). A week off to heal.

6. San Diego (3-3). Much better than the record.

27. Detroit (2-3). Harrington is close to being a bust.

28. Oakland (1-4). And now Moss is hurt.

29. Arizona (1-4). Could have had Roethlisberger in the 04 draft.

30. Minnesota (1-4). Zygi Wilf may be the only Viking left next season.

31. San Francisco (1-4). At least they know they’re building.

32. Houston (0-5). Is it a consolation prize that the Texans finally got their first takeaway?

AP-ES-10-20-05 1859EDT

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