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Atlanta has no time to waste

POSTED: November 21, 2008 5:00 a.m.
BEN MARGOT /The Associated Press

Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith watches the game against the Oakland Raiders on Nov. 2 in Oakland, Calif.

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FLOWERY BRANCH — The first home loss of the season for Michael Turner and the Atlanta Falcons provided a painful reminder of how quickly they can fall behind in the tough NFC South.

The Falcons fell to 6-4 with their 24-20 loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday, the team’s first loss after four wins in the Georgia Dome.

More bad news came from other scores in the competitive NFC South.

“It’s tough,” said center Todd McClure on Monday. “I went home last night and tried to look at the highlights to see how the teams in our division did, and they all pulled out wins.”

The Falcons fell to third place in the division, two games behind first-place Carolina, which beat Detroit, and one game behind Tampa Bay, which beat Minnesota. New Orleans is fourth in the division at 5-5 after a win against Kansas City.

Atlanta can gain ground when it plays three of its next four games against division opponents, including a home game against Carolina on Sunday.

“We still control our own destiny,” McClure said. “We play them all one more time. We’ve just got to make it happen and then let the chips fall where they may.”

The loss to Denver also provided a reminder to the Falcons that they must win games on the ground. The Falcons ranked second in the league in rushing before they were outgained on the ground 124-114 by the Broncos.

“We’ve got to recognize what the defense is doing to us and make adjustments,” Turner said Monday.

Turner had 25 carries for 81 yards and two touchdowns, leaving him with 971 yards rushing in his first season as a full-time starter.

Turner has 227 carries this season after having 228 carries the last four years in San Diego, where he was the primary backup to LaDainian Tomlinson.

Turner started only one game in his four years with the Chargers, and he never had more than 80 carries in a season. He insisted Monday that he has not worn down under the heavy workload.

“It feels the same,” he said. “I don’t feel any different.”

Turner’s overall statistics back up his claim that he’s still strong. He is averaging 3.9 yards per carry in three November games after averaging 3.4 yards per carry in three games in October, according to STATS, Inc.

Another set of statistics show the running has become increasingly tough for Turner and the Falcons.

Turner was stuffed only three times in the first five games of the year but was stopped for no gain 16 times in the last five games, including twice by the Broncos, according to STATS, Inc.

“Talking to guys today, a lot of people were disappointed because we expected a whole lot more out of our running game than what we got,” McClure said. “We’ve got to be more consistent in our running game and hopefully in our next six games we can be.”

Rookie quarterback Matt Ryan has surpassed expectations by completing 60 percent of his passes for 2,159 yards with 11 touchdowns and six interceptions.

Falcons coach Mike Smith said Ryan’s success hasn’t stopped defenses from stacking the line and daring the rookie to pass. Smith said the Falcons have faced increased eight- and nine-man fronts in recent weeks.

“People do not want us to be able to run the football,” Smith said. “They’re going to do anything they can to stop the run and force us to be one-dimensional and throw the football.”

Smith said some of Ryan’s success has come against man coverages set up by defenses committed to stopping the run.

“I think when teams have really done that we’ve been able to pass the ball well,” Smith said. “Yesterday there were a couple throws Matt would like to have back, but I thought for the most part that he did a nice job in taking advantage of the loaded box.”

Ryan had a potential touchdown pass dropped by Roddy White in the end zone late in the game.

Smith said the stacked defensive lines also set up potential big runs by Turner and Jerious Norwood. Turner had scoring runs of 28 and 9 yards against the Broncos.

“We felt we were real close to springing him on a number of occasions,” Smith said.

Notes: Smith said he doesn’t expect rookie OT Sam Baker to return this week. Baker had a discectomy, a surgery to remove herniated disc material, on Oct. 30. “Sam is increasing his rehabilitation,” Smith said. “We are not anticipating him to be out for the long term.” ... Smith said the Falcons must sign OT Renardo Foster to their active roster or place him on the injured reserve list by Wednesday. Foster was placed on the physically unable to perform list on Aug. 26. He started two games at left tackle as a rookie last season before suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in October.



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