ATLANTA - No matter how much the Atlanta Falcons want to believe tonight's game against Dallas is business as usual, they know there's nothing normal about it.
First, it's tonight, not Sunday. And more important, an entire season's worth of work might be riding on the outcome.
"You can't treat this as just another game because it's not," said linebacker Ike Reese. "It's hard to dispute this isn't a bigger game than normal."
The 7-6 Falcons need a win to keep their NFC wild card hopes alive. They control their own postseason destiny. If they win their final three games, they will make the playoffs. If they lose, they need a lot of help.
The team tried to keep things as routine as possible, but there were noticeable differences. Coach Jim Mora had some members of the media removed from Wednesday's practice, saying he wants to know in advance who will be watching workouts.
Running backs Warrick Dunn (strained calf) and Jerious Norwood (knee) both were injured in Sunday's win at Tampa. They both practiced Friday, but Mora still won't say whether they will play. All the speculation at running back sparked reports that Atlanta might use quarterback Michael Vick at running back and promote backup Matt Schaub. Both Vick and Mora offered hauntingly familiar responses, saying Vick is a quarterback, not a running back.
The running back position isn't the only spot on the Falcons' roster that's got health issues. Rookie cornerback Jimmy Williams will get a lot of playing time although he's only been back for one game after missing three with a sore ankle. Jason Webster has missed the past five games with a torn groin.
That leaves 5-foot-8 Allen Rossum in the starting lineup at left corner. And that also creates a matchup problem against 6-3 Terrell Owens. Williams is 6-2.
"The good thing is they won't see me much on film," Williams said of an injury that cost him nearly a month of recovery time. "In our minds, this is the playoffs. It's that time of year. It's that time to step up and make plays."
Reach Don Coble at firstname.lastname@example.org.
COWBOYS AT FALCONS
8 tonight NFL Network
Falcons (7-6) have injury problems at running back, allowing Cowboys (8-5) to zero in on Michael Vick. Julius Jones and Marion Barber give Cowboys two running threats.
Key stat: Falcons have won their past seven prime-time home games. Last meeting: Falcons won, 27-13, at Dallas on Sept. 7, 2003.
Fantasy factor: Tony Romo boom is cooling off - Cowboys QB has only one touchdown vs. four interceptions in past two games. TE Alge Crumpler leads Falcons with 42 catches (seven touchdowns).