Originally created 12/18/06

Falcons catch breaks



ATLANTA - The Falcons' Alge Crumpler won't study the NFC standings this week.

Atlanta head coach Jim Mora won't spend time figuring out which teams have to lose for his team to claim a wild-card berth.

DeAngelo Hall won't be tracking games in New York, Philadelphia or any other locale with a playoff-contending team.

"I stopped worrying about the other teams a long time ago," Crumpler said Saturday after the Falcons' record fell to 7-7 with a loss to Dallas. "It's a two-game season for us. We'll do what we can do and see how it works out."

The Falcons' playoff hopes got a boost Sunday. Three of the four other NFC wild-card contenders lost Sunday. Carolina lost to Pittsburgh and is 6-8, as is Minnesota, which lost to the New York Jets.

The New York Giants lost to Philadelphia. The Eagles lead the wild-card chase with an 8-6 record while the Giants own the same 7-7 record as Atlanta.

New York holds the tiebreaker over the Falcons via a victory over Atlanta earlier this season, though, and will need to lose to either New Orleans or Washington for the Falcons to get into the postseason.

Atlanta plays Carolina next Sunday in the Georgia Dome and wraps up the regular season on New Year's Eve in Philadelphia, with the winner of that game possibly claiming the final wild-card spot.

"We just have to keep scrapping because we're still in it," Hall said. "It's sad to say at 7-7, but we're still in the playoff hunt."

Atlanta's hopes likely hinge on the play of Hall and his fellow defensive backs. Hall is nursing an injured knee - he practiced just once last week - and it showed against the Cowboys. Terrell Owens burned him for two touchdowns, including a 51-yarder.

Hall's counterparts, Allen Rossum and Jimmy Williams, fared no better against Dallas' other wide receiving threat, Terry Glenn. Glenn had five catches for 96 yards while quarterback Tony Romo threw for 278 yards on 22 of 29 passing.

Dallas' 38 points equaled a season-high against Atlanta, although the Cowboys defensive scored one of those touchdowns on an interception return.

"When we execute, we can outscore anybody," Dallas tailback Julius Jones said. "We can score with the best of them."

The Falcons' must contend with two more explosive offenses in the closing weeks. Carolina features receivers Steven Smith, Keyshawn Johnson and Drew Carter while Philadelphia is producing behind quarterback Jeff Garcia.

It is unclear who will be at quarterback for the Panthers next week. Starter Jake Delhomme missed his second consecutive start Sunday because of a thumb injury. Chris Weinke started both games -both losses -and was sacked five times Sunday by the Steelers.

The Eagles' Garcia has been one of the NFL's most efficient passers since taking over for an injured Donovan McNabb a month ago. He has thrown nine touchdown passes with just one interception in four starts.

The other question mark for Atlanta is the health of quarterback Michael Vick. He injured a groin muscle early in the second half of Saturday's game and was replaced by backup Matt Schaub midway through the final drive.

Vick admitted the injury caused pain he'd "never felt before."

"If push comes to shove, I will be out there next week," Vick said.

Reach Adam Van Brimmer at (404) 589-8424 or adam.vanbrimmer@morris.com.