FLOWERY BRANCH — Defensive end John Abraham has felt something special about the Atlanta Falcons since they reported for offseason conditioning six months ago.
"That's when I totally dedicated myself to this team," Abraham said Monday. "I just hope everybody feels the same way."
Apparently his teammates do.
The Falcons (4-1) are enjoying their first four-game winning streak since 2004 and have a half-game lead in the NFC South over surprising Tampa Bay.
Atlanta, which visits Philadelphia (3-2) this week, leads defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans by two games in the division and is tied with Chicago for the NFC's best record.
The Falcons also have a flair for late-game drama.
After cruising past Arizona 41-7 in Week 2, they won in overtime at New Orleans, beat San Francisco in the final seconds of regulation and needed a defensive touchdown from Kroy Biermann with four minutes remaining to seal a 20-10 victory Sunday at Cleveland.
Biermann's spectacular 31-yard interception return, coming on a pass he tipped at the line of scrimmage and dove to secure with his fingertips, came a week after receiver Roddy White chased down a 49ers cornerback and stripped the ball away late in the fourth quarter.
Given how this season has gone, the Falcons predictably recovered the loose ball and marched 68 yards in 1:20 to edge San Francisco on Matt Bryant's 43-yard field goal with six seconds left.
White, who caught a 45-yard touchdown pass at Cleveland, loves how his team is winning. He thinks the late heroics build character.
"We're in the fourth quarter, and everybody's still got to play hard," White said. "We're out there competing and doing what we're supposed to do, so I like these games. Last year in the fourth quarter, we lost a lot of these games. This year we're winning them. It will help us in December."
Atlanta's penchant for creating turnovers also helps. Two interceptions and a fumble recovery against the Browns gave the Falcons 13 takeaways, third-most in the NFL, and boosted their turnover margin to a plus-7 that's tied for second-best.
"You have to play every play, and usually it's going to be five or six plays in the National Football League that will make the difference," coach Mike Smith said. "I think we're maturing even though we're a young team."
Not only do the Falcons have the league's second-most productive receiver in White and the No. 2-leading running back in Michael Turner, but defensive sacks are on the rise, too. With 11, Atlanta is on pace to finish the regular season with 32, eight more than last year.
Abraham has four, just 1.5 less than his 2009 total, a low mark in a 10-year when he's played 16 games. But the three-time Pro Bowl pick showed Browns left tackle Joe Thomas that he hasn't lost much, finishing with two sacks for minus-15 yards, five total tackles and one quarterback hit.
On linebacker Stephen Nicholas' interception with 1:50 remaining, Abraham pushed Thomas, a three-time Pro Bowl pick, backward into Jake Delhomme, and the quarterback bounced the ball off the helmet of left guard Eric Steinbach.
"I feel like every game we can win," Abraham said. "I don't know if the momentum was on our side last year. We'd have close games, and those games we'd lose. We had a chance to win those games and we didn't do it."
NOTES: Smith hopes the team's medical staff will clear starting LB Sean Weatherspoon (knee) to participate when practice resumes Wednesday. ... Starting WR Michael Jenkins (shoulder) is expected to make his 2010 debut on Sunday.