FLOWERY BRANCH — John Abraham took no particular satisfaction in nearly body slamming Jake Long last week.
Long just so happened to be standing between the Falcons’ three-time Pro Bowl defensive end and Miami quarterback Chad Pennington.
The same will hold true this weekend when Abraham lines up opposite Jordan Gross in his pursuit of Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme.
“I’m the pass rusher on this team,” Abraham said Friday. “It’s my job to get the quarterback.”
With two sacks in a 19-7 win over the Dolphins, Abraham now has 86 in his career, second-most among active NFL players. His dismantling of Long is still reverberating in Atlanta and Miami.
Long, the No. 1 overall draft pick of 2008, spent time this week trying to deflect questions from reporters who wondered how Abraham could make him so vulnerable.
After allowing just 2.5 sacks throughout last season, Long gave up two against the Falcons, but Abraham’s first-quarter bull rush has become instant fodder for television highlight reels and talk-show radio hosts.
Dolphins guard Justin Smiley said Thursday that center Jake Grove snapped the ball too soon in Pennington’s silent count, a mistake that gave Abraham an immediate advantage to slam the top of his helmet into Long’s chest and use his right arm to push the 6-foot-7, 317-pound lineman on his back.
To Abraham, however, such hindsight was irrelevant. His only concern was that Long lost the battle in protecting Pennington and that the Falcons (1-0) are eager to keep Carolina (0-1) on its proverbial heels Sunday at the Georgia Dome.
“I’m going to produce no matter what,” Abraham said. “It’s not just about the sacks. We defend the run. We defend the pass. We follow our game plan and we use our instincts. It’s all about winning the football game and keeping yourself in position to get in the playoffs and win the Super Bowl.”
Atlanta left tackle Sam Baker can only imagine what Long felt like. Baker, who was drafted 20 spots after Long and was the fifth offensive tackle selected last year, has spent the last two training camps getting his fill of blocking Abraham.
“For four quarters? With crowd noise?” Baker wondered aloud. “Oh, man. I would be hollering up there for a chip. I would need a slide or (have) someone to slide with me. In terms of third down, he’s a nightmare.”
With Abraham seemingly close to 100 percent healthy and 10 years into his career, Falcons defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder knows matchups against young players like Long are usually going to favor the Falcons.
So don’t be surprised if Abraham switches from side to side against Carolina. Gross, who starts at left tackle, is in his seventh season. Jeff Otah, the right-side starter, is in his second year. The Falcons’ end rotation of Abraham, Jamaal Anderson, Chauncey Davis and Kroy Biermann sacked Delhomme three times in beating the Panthers 45-28 last November.
Biermann had two sacks, but Abraham, who had one of his 16.5 that set a Falcons single-season record last year, drew constant double-teams to free other defenders.
“I think the physical traits that he brings are difficult for offensive tackles in our league,” VanGorder said. “He’s a great speed rusher. We all know that, but he knows how to work from speed to power in a way that’s really unique to him and then how to use leverage. He’s gained a great knowledge over the years, and you couple that with the great talent, it makes him difficult to deal with.”
VanGorder was quick to point out that Delhomme’s struggles with 11 turnovers in his last two games don’t necessarily mean Abraham could have a four-sack Sunday. The Panthers are coming off a 38-10 home loss to Philadelphia that included five interceptions and a lost fumble by Delhomme.
“We expect they’ll be prepared for us and our defense and what we do and make protection a huge priority,” VanGorder said. “He’s an awfully good quarterback and he’s played a lot of good games against us.”
Abraham gives little significance to his Atlanta debut in the 2006 season opener, when he had six tackles, two forced fumbles, two sacks and one pass defended in helping the Falcons win 20-6 at Carolina.
“I have a lot more freedom now,” he said, “so I think it’s showing up on the field and also how I play.”