FLOWERY BRANCH — Michael Turner thinks the NFL caught a glimpse of a coming attraction in Atlanta.
It’s just what the Falcons envisioned: Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White, Matt Ryan and Turner playing at an elite level, together, for an entire game.
“I guess everybody’s been waiting a long time for us to click like that in one game,” Turner said Monday. “It felt good. We’ve just got to keep it going.”
After finishing 9-7 last season and missing the playoffs, the Falcons’ offense began the season seeking validation. An overtime loss at Pittsburgh in Week 1 only caused more doubt, and the blowout win over Arizona last week hardly offered much of a measuring stick.
But winning 27-24 in overtime at New Orleans is having an opposite effect. Everyone is starting to believe.
Watching film Monday, the Falcons saw that Gonzalez is still an elite tight end, that White is among the league’s best wideouts and that Turner looks like the same workhorse who finished second in rushing two years ago.
And with Ryan channeling the efficiency that led to his 2008 offensive rookie of the year award, the Falcons now have proof they can challenge the Saints for NFC South supremacy.
Atlanta used a relentless ground game (202 yards on 50 carries) to end a three-game slide against New Orleans. The resulting time of possession was staggering as the Falcons held the ball for all but 27 minutes of a 73-minute game.
“It’s tough to stop, man, when you’ve got 19-play drives and stuff like that,” White said. “Defenses don’t want to play 80 plays.”
Turner ran for 111 yards, but his performance marked the first time since Week 15 of 2008 that he carried at least 30 times. Jason Snelling complemented Turner with 62 yards rushing on 14 attempts.
“Our offense went back out there and did what makes us good,” Gonzalez said. “I mean, Michael Turner what a player. You saw in overtime. He just made plays and drove us down the field to get us in position to win the game, and we did.”
Coach Mike Smith said Monday that Gonzalez, who caught eight passes for 110 yards and a touchdown, played his best game since the Falcons acquired him in a trade with Kansas City 18 months ago.
Gonzalez made the Saints regret trying to single-cover him with outside linebackers and safeties.
Possibly his best play was adjusting to a 9-yard pass on fourth-and-2 that New Orleans defensive end Will Smith tipped near the line of scrimmage. Gonzalez, who gathered control of the wobbly ball as he was falling to his right ahead of safety Pierson Prioleau, landed at the New Orleans 2, and Turner scored to make it 14-14 just before halftime.
“Each time, at some point in the game, it seemed like some guy came up big when his number was called,” Snelling said. “Being able to run the ball like that helps out Matt even more. When we can run the football, it gives him more options to hurt them in the passing game.”
Ryan did just that, targeting Gonzalez and White a combined 15 times and completing 13 passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns.
Every time Ryan would complete a pass, it seemed offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey would call 10 straight runs to pound the Saints’ front seven.
“It’s a huge deal,” Turner said. “You want to get that rhythm. You want to use everyone’s talents to the most their capabilities to see what this team really looks like. To put things together like we did yesterday — it felt pretty good.”
As well as the Falcons played, however, Turner understands it took near-perfection to win. Had Saints kicker Garrett Hartley not missed a potential 29-yard winning field goal in overtime, nobody would’ve felt too pleased the next day.
“We are going to go out there and do whatever it takes to win,” Turner said. “I’m just so proud of all of these guys today. This is a character win. We have so many good players on our team.”
Notes: Smith said starting OLB Sean Weatherspoon, a first-round draft pick, suffered no aftereffects from cramps that caused him to leave the field on a cart in overtime. ... The Falcons hope WR Michael Jenkins (shoulder) and S Erik Coleman (knee) will return to practice on Wednesday.