Falcons Agree to Terms With DE Ray Edwards

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons have agreed to terms with free agent defensive end Ray Edwards.

A person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press that Edwards would sign a five-year contract. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because teams can’t officially sign free agents until 6 p.m. Friday.

Edwards, who spent the last five seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, fills a major void on the Falcons defensive line. He had 16.5 sacks the past two years and gives Atlanta another pass-rushing threat along with John Abraham.

Earlier Friday, the Falcons cleared $7.8 million in cap room by cutting defensive end Jamal Anderson and receiver Michael Jenkins.

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Meticulous Mularkey Focuses on Details for Falcons

ATLANTA. Mike Mularkey likes to keep his focus on the Falcons’ next game.

Receiver Michael Jenkins on Wednesday called Mularkey “meticulous.”

Atlanta’s offensive coordinator is all about the details. He’s all about the now. Thanks in part to Mularkey’s focus, the Falcons are all about winning.

Mularkey’s offense ranks fifth in the NFL in scoring and is a big reason the Falcons (11-2) have the NFC’s best record — and poised for a run.

“He’s just real meticulous with his work,” Jenkins said. “He likes to go over everything to the finest detail. If you’ve heard it 30 times, he wants to go over it 31 times. That’s just the way he is. He strives for perfection. And he does a great job of feeling the games, knowing when to put us in no-huddle, when we should continue to run the ball. He has a good sense of that.”

It’s as if Mularkey can make no bad calls.

His offense wears down defenses with a power running game led by 1,000-yard rusher Michael Turner and a dangerous passing attack. Matt Ryan, in his third season, is having his best year while throwing to Roddy White, who leads the NFL with 99 catches.

With Hall of Fame-bound tight end Tony Gonzalez and a line that has been together for three years, Mularkey has a variety of weapons at his disposal.

“I think he tries to be unpredictable,” Gonzalez said. “He tries to keep the defense on their heels with different formations. I think we go into games with like 15 different groupings. Not plays, I’m talking about literally sets, names of groups where like each group is different players in the game. Different sets.

“We never really run anything twice, and that keeps a defense on their heels. That comes from his preparation.”

Mularkey was the offensive coordinator for the and and the head coach at Buffalo before joining Mike Smith in Atlanta.

He said he’d like to be a head coach again but he insisted he isn’t thinking about his next possible career move. For now, he’s consumed with devising a plan for Sunday’s game at Seattle.

Mularkey, zoned in on the Seattle defense, was caught off guard this week with a question about his future: Was he aware that he was mentioned in a TV report as a possible candidate to be the next head coach in Denver, where Josh McDaniels was fired and Eric Studesville is the interim coach?

Mularkey seemed to be genuinely stumped by the question.

“I don’t know anything about it,” he said.

Mularkey’s success in three seasons with coach Mike Smith in Atlanta is likely to ensure his name continues to be included in speculation about head jobs.

“I’d like the opportunity again,” Mularkey said. “I would if it ever presents itself.”

He was 14-18 in two seasons with the , including a 9-7 record in 2004. In Atlanta, he has been part of a three-year run of winning seasons — especially impressive considering the Falcons had never before managed back-to-back winning records.

Ryan said he “absolutely” would not be surprised to see a team interview Mularkey for a head coaching position.

“That’s part of this industry,” said Ryan, who has thrown for 3,147 yards with 22 touchdown passes and only eight interceptions “That’s a great thing. He’s a great coach. He’s a great person. Obviously, I’d love to have him stick around here my entire career, but that’s not always the case.”

Ryan said his goal is to make the most of this season with Mularkey.

“One of the things I’m excited about is this year and not looking too far down the road, and knowing that Mike will make a good decision for himself and his family in the future,” Ryan said. “But I’m glad that we have him for this season.”

Mularkey said he has had no reason to consider how he would approach interest from another team.

“No, to be honest with you, it hasn’t even crossed my mind,” he said. “We’re trying to win this football game. I’m telling my players to focus on the now, don’t worry about anything else, don’t worry about what anybody else is doing. You have absolutely no control over what anybody else is doing, in regards to jobs or any of that.”

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Bar Is Set At Top For Packers And Falcons

Packers (7-3) at Falcons (8-2)Sunday, 1 p.m.Line: Falcons by 2 1/2

Labeling a game as a preview of the N.F.C. championship is like calling a young singer-songwriter the ”next Bob Dylan.” It sets the bar too high: you expect Cowboys versus 49ers circa 1992, but instead you get welterweight-caliber matchups. The season opener between the Vikings and Saints, both a conference championship preview and a rematch, devolved into a sloppy punter’s duel. Sunday night’s Eagles-Giants game, while close, was marred by dropped passes and inexcusable turnovers. The latest would-be championship preview pits the Packers, who have spent three seasons on the brink of breaking out, against the Other Leading Brand.

The Packers have become coach killers: both Wade Phillips and Brad Childress were fired after the Packers blew out their respective teams. Think of Clay Matthews and Aaron Rodgers as a bracing splash of ice water on the face of an indecisive owner. ”Your quarterback is 40 years old! We’re crushing him!” the Packers announce, ”Your coach has no idea how to turn things around! Pull the plug before it’s too late!”

Mike Smith’s job is in no jeopardy, but the Falcons must prove they bring more to the table than chain restaurant consistency. Their weekly box scores are so unwavering that it’s almost spooky, like realizing that every chicken Caesar salad served at T.J. McHappyhour’s contains exactly 8.5 croutons. Does Michael Jenkins have to catch exactly five passes each week? Does Matt Ryan get a bonus for completing between 24 and 26 passes per game? The Falcons sometimes appear to value a low standard deviation to a high point total. They need more flair.

The same Falcons performance level that produced easy wins against the Rams and Buccaneers resulted in tough losses against the Steelers and Eagles, and it could sink them against the Packers or a playoff foe. Without that extra spark of brilliance, the Falcons will always sound more like Jackrabbit Slim than ”Blonde on Blonde.” Pick: Packers

Chargers (5-5) at Colts (6-4)Sunday, 8:20 p.m.Line: Colts by 3

All is right with the Chargers now that the team has embraced 240-pound Mike Tolbert (25 carries, 111 yards on Monday Night) as a featured back. The Chargers just aren’t the Chargers without a roly-poly wrecking ball like Marion Butts, Natrone Means or Tolbert crashing into the line 25 times per game. Rookie Ryan Mathews will get some carries when his ankle heals, but Tolbert appears to be a better fit for the offense. He’s also much more fun to watch.

Back when the Colts appeared invincible, the Chargers routinely beat them. The Chargers are 4-1 in their last five meetings with the Colts, including playoff victories in 2007 and 2008. By shifting defensive linemen and linebackers into different formations before the snap, the Chargers were able to prevent Peyton Manning from calling the plays he wanted at the line of scrimmage. Manning has thrown 14 interceptions in eight games against the Chargers, and his passer rating is lower against the Chargers (74.8) than against any other team but the Browns. Factor in Tolbert’s battering ram potential and the Chargers’ tendency to charge from the rear late in the season, and this game has heavy upset potential. Pick: Chargers

Jaguars (6-4) at Giants (6-4)Sunday, 1 p.m.Line: Giants by 7

While you wrap your brain around the fact that the Jaguars are in first place, reflect for a moment upon the Giants’ short-lived reign as the best team in the N.F.C. Back-to-back divisional losses exposed major weaknesses: a secondary that allows receivers to get open over the middle too easily and an offense that thinks it needs to commit a minimum of three turnovers to have its parking validated. It’s a good thing the Giants’ defense is stingy on third down (opponents are 7 of 43 on conversions in the last four games) and in the red zone (allowing just two touchdowns in the last 10 trips); otherwise, they would give up over 30 points per game. An injury rash at wide receiver had the team kicking tires on every irregulars-rack wideout from Michael Clayton (signed midweek) to Kevin Curtis. Phil McConkey was seen running extra hard on a treadmill recently, but that may just have been a coincidence.

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