FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. - The Atlanta defense was at full strength three weeks ago in New Orleans, but the Falcons still had no solution for Saints running back Deuce McAllister.
Sunday's assignment figures to be tougher. Defensive ends Brady Smith and Travis Hall, still hobbled by injuries they suffered against Pittsburgh five days ago, practiced Friday for the first time this week.
Coach Dan Reeves upgraded both players to probable, but the team will wait until Sunday to make a decision.
McAllister, who's eager to avenge the Saints' 37-35 loss to Atlanta, won't really care. New Orleans' first-round draft pick last year, McAllister leads the NFC and ranks third overall with 907 yards rushing.
Against Atlanta, McAllister rushed 17 times for 115 yards. He scored his second touchdown from 16 yards out in the fourth quarter by running over safety Keion Carpenter.
"People don't realize how big I am," McAllister said. "You look at 6-2, 230, but some guys think I'm not that big or whatever. That's my game. I use speed and power. Whether it's deceptive speed or power, I have both at my availability, and I've been blessed to be able to do so."
In last week's 34-24 win at Carolina, McAllister scored his 10th and 11th touchdowns, but he's still irked over two second-quarter mistakes that cost him against the Falcons. After right guard LeCharles Bentley committed a holding penalty that wiped out a 61-yard touchdown run, McAllister lost a fumble four plays later at the Atlanta 35. It led to the Falcons taking a 14-10 lead into halftime.
New Orleans dropped to 5-1 in games that McAllister rushed for at least 100 yards.
"It's not the one you get in the end," McAllister said. "It's the one that you let go. That's the one that I'm most worried about. That hurts me the most."
FOOTBALL 101: The Falcons are hosting an NFL-sponsored class for women interested in learning more about football today from 2-6 p.m. at the Georgia Dome.
Ray Buchanan, Bob Christian, T.J. Duckett, Jay Feely, Brian Finneran, Patrick Kerney and Bob Whitfield are among players who will attend the session that is offered in all 32 NFL cities.
The session includes classroom and on-field discussions. The cost is $45. The team said proceeds will benefit the Atlanta Day Shelter for Women and Children, which helps resettle over 5,500 people through education and counseling.
ACHES AND PAINS: Reeves and his staff will watch Shawn Jefferson closely in pre-game warm-ups. Jefferson bruised his left foot while catching a 35-yard touchdown pass from Michael Vick last week and remained in the game to record a career-high nine receptions for 131 yards. Jefferson was wearing a protective boot on his foot Monday and Tuesday, but he had taken it off by Wednesday.
After practicing Wednesday, Jefferson was held out Thursday and saw limited action Friday. The 33-year-old Jacksonville, Fla., native has played in 196 of 197 career games, including a streak of 103 straight. Reeves won't let Jefferson play just for the sake of keeping his streak alive. The same applies for the other two veterans hurt last week - Hall, who pulled a ligament in his right foot and Smith, who sustained a hip flexor.
"It's great to be tough, but you've also got to be smart," Reeves said.
"That's what I expect all those guys to be is they've got to be honest with us and let us know if they can go or not."
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