Coach relieved to get first win in conference

Associated Press
Falcons head coach Bobby Petrino had reason to applaud his team Sunday, even though questions remain about the offense.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. --- Coach Bobby Petrino cracked a slight grin when asked about the Atlanta Falcons' first NFC victory.


His team needed five tries to beat a conference opponent -- Petrino was grateful the Falcons stopped the streak before this week's game at Carolina.

"The way the team stayed together in the bye week with the attitude is a credit to the veterans," Petrino said Monday after watching film of Atlanta's 20-16 win over San Francisco.

"They are helping the young guys grow and get better. We are a very young football team, and I don't know if anyone else is playing that many rookies."

Only St. Louis, at 0-6, has a worse NFC record.

"You play one week at a time and keep preparing," Petrino said. "We knew that if we stayed with it we would hopefully get better as the year went on. We have to take this game, battle and try to get another win."

If the Falcons can turn their season around, the running game must build on its effort against the 49ers. Atlanta is 0-5 when opponents outgain them on the ground, and Petrino hopes it's not a harbinger that No. 2 running back Jerious Norwood is uncertain entering this week.

Norwood, who ranks third among NFL backs with at least 30 carries with an average of 5.9 yards per carry, was unable to return after leaving with a right ankle sprain in the third quarter. Norwood is Atlanta's only runner with game-changing speed.

He isn't the only injury concern offensively. Four-time Pro Bowl tight end Alge Crumpler will try to return after missing two games with ankle and knee injuries. Right tackle Todd Weiner, who was sidelined two games in a row with a sprained ankle, took limited snaps against San Francisco, but Petrino will wait until later this week to determine his availability.

Petrino isn't clear on when quarterback Byron Leftwich might return from ankle surgery. Joey Harrington, whom Petrino benched after an abysmal Week 6 loss to the New York Giants, completed 14-of-25 passes for just 138 yards, no touchdowns and an interception.

But the Falcons' defense, led by linebacker Michael Boley, right end John Abraham, safety Lawyer Milloy and cornerbacks DeAngelo Hall and Jimmy Williams, forced 49ers' quarterback Alex Smith into four second-half turnovers.

"We have taken care of the ball, and the turnovers have started to come our way," Petrino said.



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