As Turner Soars So Do the Falcons

Turner, the Falcons’ 5-foot-10, 244-pound running back is a squat target, all shoulder pads and knee pads as he plows to the hole. If he rushes for 100 yards, the passing game is a more substantial threat. If he churns first downs, it means that Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will have to stew on the sidelines and watch a game of Monopoly by the home team.

“The way to really spark this team is to get the run game going,” Turner said. “That’s the easiest way to get us going.”

The Falcons can win on Saturday night at the Georgia Dome if quarterback Matt Ryan can make plays to wide receiver Roddy White and tight end Tony Gonzalez and if Turner can beat the run blitz, which is sure to come.

“If teams run blitz and you can get your running back started, there’s going to be chances for big plays because they’re going to have the safety down and there’s going to be one guy left in the middle of the field,” center Todd McClure said. “If we can get him to that second level, that’s where he can do some damage; just get him to his first cut.”

Turner, who is in the third season of a six-year deal that pays $34.5 million, led the N.F.C. in rushing with 1,371 yards. He scored 12 touchdowns and had seven games of 100-plus yards, even as part of an offense that completed the seventh most passes in the (361).

The consequences for the defense when Turner gets to the second level — face-to-face with a cornerback, safety or outside linebacker — are that the thick Turner can block for the decently fast Turner. He does not need an escort. His shoulder pads hit the safety or corner; his legs carry him past.

Turner ranked fourth in the N.F.L. with yards after contact (694). He has nine runs over 20 yards. The Falcons do not call him Burner Turner. They call him MARTA, for the commuter train system in Atlanta.

Turner was called something much worse following an injury-marred 2009 season, in which he rushed for 871 yards. There was a list full of derision: one-hit wonder, fat and happy, a flash in the pan, and on and on.

In his first season in Atlanta in 2008 after backing up LaDainian Tomlinson for four seasons in San Diego, Turner ran for 1,699 yards and 17 touchdowns and helped carry the Falcons to the playoffs.

In 2009, the yards plummeted, not just because of the high-ankle sprain, but because Turner was heavier and not as fine-tuned. He intended to rest his body following his first full season as a starter in 2008, but he took it too far and gained weight. The ankle injury, which sidelined him five games, was the primary reason he slumped, but Turner knew conditioning was a factor, too.

In the Falcons’ locker room Wednesday, which was filled with media, Turner had a chance to perhaps chortle and stiff arm some of the critics. Instead, after practice, he went right to his regular routine of lifting weights.

When he came back to his locker, there were only four minutes left for the media’s allowed time in the locker room. At first, he shrugged off the notion that he was motivated this season by criticism.

“I was so focused on this year and so focused on finishing strong I haven’t had a chance to sit back and think about what I’m accomplishing this year,” Turner said.

Asked if was satisfying to see his career get back on track, Turner said: “It sticks with you, that’s something you keep in the back of your mind because you want to prove people wrong. As a competitor that’s your nature; to prove people wrong. You know you have the ability to do something and people are still out there saying you can’t do it.

“I think that’s behind me now,” he said. “I don’t think people can say I was a one-hit wonder.”

Against Green Bay, when the Atlanta offense comes to the line, receivers and backs will shift and go in motion, all designed to slow the Packers’ reactions because the defenders are considering where the ball might go.

If the Falcons have their way, it will not be complicated. The ball will go straight ahead with Turner.

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