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Falcons hold on to beat Chargers


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Falcons hold on to beat Chargers


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Sunday, November 30, 2008

San Diego — A sign of a good team is being able to win when things are not clicking on all cylinders.

The Falcons didn’t bring anything close to their A-game to the West Coast, but came up with enough timely plays to hold on for a 22-16 victory over the Chargers on Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium.

The victory pushed the Falcons record to 8-4 and allowed them to remain just one game behind NFC South leaders Tampa Bay (9-3) and Carolina (9-3).

Running back Michael Turner, returning here to play against his former team, powered the offense with 120 yards rushing on 31 carries.

The defense held San Diego’s LaDainian Tomlinson to 24 yards rushing, his second lowest career total.

The Falcons were able to win despite missing an open receiver in the end zone, a botched punt return, giving up an 86-yard fumble return and a fourth-quarter fumble by Turner when the team was trying to run out the clock.

San Diego, one of the league’s hardluck stories with four losses in the final 24 seconds of games, dropped to 4-8.

The Falcons held a 15-7 lead at halftime, but would have built a larger lead if they hadn’t got stuffed on four tries from the 1-yard late in the second quarter.

The Chargers showed little respect for the Falcons defense on the opening drive of the game. The Chargers game plan clearly called for a heavy dose of tight end Antonio Gates. Five passes — including two drops — were thrown his way to help move the Chargers down to the Falcons 34-yard line.

Instead of attempting a 51-yard field goal attempt, the Chargers went for it on third-and-3. Defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux, who signed a contract extension on Tuesday, batted down the fifth pass that was intended for Gates.

The Falcons, with Matt Ryan, moving out of the pocket on bootlegs off of play action fakes, moved the ball down to San Diego’s 17.

Ryan, who did not throw a touchdown pass in the last two games against Carolina and Denver, connected on 4 of his first 5 passes. But on third-and-6 from the 17, Ryan overthrew a wide open Michael Jenkins in the end zone. Jason Elam came on and made a 35-yard field to make it 3-0.

It was a good sign for the Falcons, they were 5-0 in games in which they scored on their opening drive.

The defense stopped the Chargers and forced a punt on their second possession. But returner Harry Douglas fumbled the ball when he tried to pick up a rolling ball. San Diego’s Anthony Waters won a fight with Thomas DeCoud for the ball at the Falcons 20-yard line.

Four plays later, Tomlinson scored a touchdown on 3-yard run. Nate Kaeding’s extra point made it 7-3.

Ryan got the Falcons next possession started by throwing a deep pass to Roddy White that went for 38 yards. After an offside penalty by tight end Justin Peelle, the drive stalled at the Charger’s 22. Elam added a 40-yard field goal to make it 7-6 on the last play of the first quarter.

The defense continued to stifle the Chargers offense and forced a three-and-out.

Douglas broke the punt return up the middle of the field for 32 yards to redeem himself and set up the offense at San Diego’s 46 yard line.

Turner did the heavy lifting as he carried several of his old teammates on two 8-yard gains, but fullback Ovie Mughelli picked up a fourth-and-inches from the 19 to keep the drive alive.

On the next play, Ryan threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Peelle. Elam’s extra point made it 13-7 with 9:24 left in the second quarter.

Later in the quarter, an intentional grounding penalty on Philip Rivers, who was attempting to throw from the end zone, was called a safety and made it 15-7.

At the end of the first half, the Falcons had a first-and-goal from the Chargers’ 2-yard line.

Turner was held for no gain on first down and stopped a yard short on second down. After a Chargers’ offsides penalty moved the ball inside the one, Ovie Mughelli was stuff on third down.

With an 8-point lead head coach Mike Smith elected to go for it on fourth down.

Turner tried to power of the left side, but was stopped short by Tim Dobbins and Brandon Siler.

The move was magnified on the Falcons’ first possession of the third quarter when Brian Finneran fumbled a pass that was scooped up by Chargers safety Eric Weedle and returned 86 yards for a touchdown.

The Chargers’ two-point conversion attempt, a pass to Malcolm Floyd, was incomplete to make it 15-13.

After an exchange of punts, the Falcons got the ball back and cobbled together a nice 11-play, 72-yard scoring drive. Douglas was wide open in the left corner of the end zone an a third-and-goal from the 5. Elam’s kick made it 22-13 early in the fourth quarter.



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