Late heroics propel Falcons to first place

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. --- 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," he 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 and needed a defensive touchdown from Kroy Biermann with four minutes left to seal a 20-10 victory Sunday at Cleveland.

Roddy White, who had a 45-yard touchdown catch Sunday, thinks the late heroics build character.

"We're in the fourth quarter, and everybody's still got to play hard," White said. "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.

The Falcons have the league's second-most productive receiver in White and the No. 2 running back in Michael Turner.

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 career when he's played 16 games. But the three-time Pro Bowl finished Sunday with two sacks for minus-15 yards, five total tackles and one quarterback hit.

Jenkins to return

Falcons coach Mike Smith says starting receiver Michael Jenkins has been medically cleared to play Sunday in Philadelphia.

Jenkins returned to practice three weeks ago but missed all of the preseason and the first five games after injuring his shoulder in an Aug. 6 team scrimmage.

Jenkins has 3,007 yards receiving and 18 touchdowns in 92 career games and 55 starts. Of his 235 catches, 64 percent have converted first downs.

-- Associated Press