Michael Turner, Falcons Back, Still Shoulders Load

“I’m from Chicago,” Turner said with a grin. “I’ve played in some weather before. Finesse? Give me a break.”

The Falcons (10-6) have been nothing close to a finesse team in the four years Turner has played in Atlanta, including this season, when the team mixed into its scheme the fascinating and fast rookie wide receiver Julio Jones. There were assumptions that the Falcons were going to change their identity as a one-cut, downhill-run team when they acquired Jones, an all-American from Alabama, but Turner is still the 247-pound billboard of the Falcons’ offense.

Despite dealing with a groin strain, Turner carried the ball 301 times this season, second in the league to Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew (343). Because of Turner, who rushed for 1,340 yards this season, the Falcons have a varied offense that does not have to put every game in the hands of quarterback Matt Ryan.

“To me that has been the most misrepresented statement about us, that we lost our identity,” said Thomas Dimitroff, Atlanta’s general manager, who signed Turner to a six-year contract in 2008. “I started hearing that earlier in the season. We never lost our identity. We are based around a strong running game. We have always talked about working down the middle of the field. When we acquired Julio, we never had plans to go away from having Michael run the rock.”

Turner, who averaged 4.5 yards per carry this season, has run the ball more than 300 times in three of the four seasons he has been in Atlanta. Only Tennessee’s Chris Johnson (5,645) and Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson (5,411) have more rushing yards in the last four seasons than Turner (5,281).

When Turner went five consecutive games without a 100-yard game in the second half of this season, some theorized that he was wearing down and that maybe the Falcons needed to develop a more fancy offense. Turner is 29 and spent four years in San Diego (2004 to 2007) as a backup to LaDainian Tomlinson. Punishing blows make a short shelf life for an running back, and this is Turner’s eighth season.

“I’m not wearing down,” he said. “We just lost some of our chemistry there for a few games. It fell off a little bit; hopefully we have our consistency back.”

Ovie Mughelli, a Pro Bowl fullback in 2010, was placed on injured reserve Oct. 25 with a knee injury and the Falcons lost some traction in their run game. They seemed to reconstitute the running game last Sunday against Tampa Bay, when Turner ran for 172 yards, albeit against a team that lost its last 10 games of the season.

“It was great to see Michael Turner get back on track,” Coach Mike Smith said. “We knew that our run game had been trending down over the last four or five weeks. It was something that we looked at very closely.”

The Falcons put Turner on a routine in which he was not practicing Wednesdays and Thursdays, and he looked fresh against the Bucs. He dashed 81 yards for a score, and defenders tried to avoid head-on collisions on his way down the field.

Turner is the essence of the Falcons because they are designed to be a fourth-quarter team. They want to run the ball and limit possessions, keeping the score down, and to chew up a defense. Atlanta has a veteran field-goal kicker, Matt Bryant, so it can win those low-scoring games.

The running game is so effective that the Falcons are also able to use play-action on first down to fake a run and throw a pass. They patiently poke around with the run, and while other teams might want to show off their playbook, the Falcons will come back to successful rushing plays.

The opponents who have been successful against the Atlanta ground game, like Jacksonville, stay in a base front on defense and do not move around. They want to make Turner cut back abruptly and know how to fit against the Falcons’ blocking so they have two tacklers coming straight to the point of attack.

Turner is the antidote to the Giants’ pass rush because his early-down gains can keep the Falcons out of bad situations, like third-and-7s.

“Things have always worked out for me,” Turner said. “I was never worried this season about being that piece, not being that piece. I’m a guy who waits his turn and tries to be part of the team.”

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Turner, Falcons Run Past Woeful Panthers 31-10

CHARLOTTE, N.C.. The Atlanta Falcons still aren’t very flashy. They certainly didn’t wow anybody playing the NFL’s worst team Sunday.

All they do, seemingly, is win.

Michael Turner ran for 112 yards and three touchdowns, Matt Ryan threw for another and the Atlanta Falcons maintained their grasp on the best record in the NFC with a 31-10 victory over the .

The Falcons (11-2) built a 17-0 halftime lead, survived a brief hiccup to start the third quarter, and cruised to their seventh straight win. and Kroy Biermann each had two sacks, Mike Peterson picked off Jimmy Clausen and the Falcons became the latest team to shut down the league’s worst offense.

Jonathan Stewart rushed for a season-best 133 yards, but lost a fumble on Carolina’s first play from scrimmage to set up Atlanta’s first TD. Things didn’t get much better for the Panthers (1-12), who dropped their seventh straight stayed on track to get the top pick in the draft.

Atlanta inched closer to a playoff berth with the victory. With losing to Detroit, Atlanta would get in with a loss by the Eagles on Sunday night or the Giants on Monday thanks to Turner’s continued resurgence.

Turner, who sprained his ankle here last year to derail his season as Atlanta missed the playoffs, had TD runs of 1, 3 and 4 yards in his fifth straight 100-yard game against Carolina. He carried 28 times, getting increased work with backup Jason Snelling (hamstring) sidelined.

Ryan wasn’t particularly sharp, but completed 20 of 34 passes for 227 yards and an interception. Roddy White caught eight passes for 79 yards and Atlanta overcome an odd atmosphere amid Carolina’s horrible season.

With bundled-up owner Jerry Richardson watching stone-faced from his open-air box in the end zone, he saw thousands of empty blue seats and a team in disarray after his offseason cost-cutting.

The few fans that were on hand — the stadium was somewhere between a third and half full at the start — at least were making light of the situation. The loudest cheer early was when referee Clete Blakeman announced, “That is the end of the first quarter.”

At that point, the Panthers were being outgained 133-6. They didn’t get a first down — which also produced jeers — until early in the second quarter.

By the time the next mock fist pumps and yells for Carolina’ second first down, Abraham and Biermann each had two sacks and it was 17-0 nearing halftime.

Three plays after Stewart’s opening fumble, Ryan tossed a 4-yard touchdown pass to Tony Gonzalez. Ryan’s 46-yard pass to Harry Douglas, who burned rookie Robert McClain, set up Turner 1-yard TD run on the second series.

Against the NFL’s lowest-scoring team, that was more than enough despite Carolina’s brief spurt.

After gaining 33 yards in the first half, the Panthers got a 48-yard burst by Stewart and Mike Goodson’s 13-yard TD run on an 81-yard drive to start the third quarter to get within 17-7.

Stewart rumbled for 42 yards for the next possession, but a frazzled Clausen was sacked by Chauncey Davis on fourth down near midfield to end the drive.

The Falcons quickly pounced, with Ryan completing three passes to White before Turner’s twisting 3-yard TD run made it 24-7.

It left Carolina closer to finishing with the league’s worst record, getting the No. 1 draft pick and perhaps a chance to select Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.

Clausen was 14 of 24 for 107 yards, extending his streak to 193 passes since his lone TD of the season. Peterson picked him off midway through the fourth quarter off a deflected pass to set up Turner’s final TD. Clausen was also sacked five times.

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