FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. - Alge Crumpler is having arguably the best season of his five-year career.
Beginning Sunday night in Chicago, the Atlanta Falcons play three more games, but don't ask Crumpler to make major declarations.
The proverbial finish line is too far away.
"I always set goals, and I have a hard time achieving them, but the biggest thing is I've made an improvement every year of my career," Crumpler said Friday. "Even when I missed a couple of games last year, it was an improvement over the year before."
In a 19-point victory Monday night against New Orleans, Crumpler set his second season career high this year. His three catches covered 94 yards, which gave him 779 for the season and broke the franchise record he set for Atlanta tight ends with five fewer yards in 2004.
Crumpler caught seven passes to set a single-game career high in the Falcons' 27-7 win at Detroit three weeks ago. Entering Sunday, his 56 catches are the most he's had in a season.
San Diego's Antonio Gates and Jeremy Shockey of the New York Giants are the only tight ends with more yards receiving than Crumpler, who ranks second with a 13.9 average per catch and with 14 receptions of at least 20 yards.
"I think he's going to be one of the best tight ends ever to play the game," quarterback Michael Vick said. "It's all in the way he prepares himself and his knowledge of the game. It's gotten to a level where he's making big play after big play after big play. He's going to put up some big numbers before it's all over."
Crumpler and Vick have been teammates since their first NFL day. After drafting Vick No. 1 overall in 2001, the Falcons chose Crumpler in the second round 34 picks later.
As rookies, they roomed together on team road trips. Crumpler and Vick became full-time starters in their second season.
"I think about that all the time," Vick said. "We were both up there on that podium after we got drafted. It just seemed like it happened for a reason. What I like so much is how he rubs off on his teammates and makes everyone around him better. It's contagious."
Crumpler distinguished himself at North Carolina for his ability to make difficult catches in heavy traffic. That trait gives Vick confidence to throw the ball into tight coverage if Crumpler is the target.
Now that the Falcons (8-5) must face the Bears (9-4) and the NFL's top-ranked defense, Vick has more options in the passing game than he had last year. Rookie Roddy White, a first-round pick from Alabama-Birmingham, has 15 catches for a 20.3 average and two touchdowns since becoming a starter in a Week 9 win at Miami.
White displayed his skills against New Orleans by beating two defenders to the ball and a third Saint to the goal line with a 54-yard catch.
"I stay on him every day, but he doesn't shy away from it," Crumpler said concerning his evaluations of White. "I see so many things in him that have potential to make him real special down the road. He's displaying a lot of them right now, actually."
The Bears will be their fourth opponent currently ranked among the top five in pass defense.
Vick fared well against Green Bay, Tampa Bay and twice against New Orleans as he completed 56.9 percent of 116 passes for a 217.5 average, four touchdowns and two interceptions.
Turnovers, however, caused the Falcons to lose twice at home to the Packers and Buccaneers. Atlanta also trailed by a 27-0 combined score in those games, and Crumpler is concerned that his team is 7-0 with a halftime lead but 0-5 with a halftime and a fourth-quarter deficit.
The Falcons beat the Saints in Week 6 with the score tied after three quarters.
"The key for us is to score some points early," Crumpler said. "We have to get off to a good start. We can't afford to let another team hold us down and then wait to get things going."
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