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Atlanta Falcons linebacker Mike Peterson(notes) put together one of the finest games of his career and stamped a punctuation mark on a lesson so many NFL coaches and veteran players try to teach younger players.

When you have a coach you know and trust, stick with him as long as you can – even if you have to follow him.

On Sunday, Peterson helped lead the Falcons to a dominating 19-7 win over the visiting Miami Dolphins. He forced a fumble with a nasty hit on Dolphins tight end Anthony Fasano(notes) that set up an Atlanta field goal and intercepted a pass that ultimately resulted in a touchdown.

1252963553.jpg Peterson prepares to take down Dolphins RB Ronnie Brown(notes).

(Dale Zanine/US Presswire)

That's about as good a debut the Falcons could have asked from Peterson, who's reunited this season with Atlanta coach Mike Smith(notes) – his defensive coordinator for five years in Jacksonville. Peterson is the type of open and emotional guy that Smith loves. Unfortunately, when Smith left Jacksonville, those traits ran head on into Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio.

"The good thing about this situation is I have the same defensive coach I had for so many years in Jacksonville," Peterson said Sunday. "To be honest, you have to give all the credit to the coaches who put me in the right spot to do what I do. … They know what to expect of me and, vice versa, I know what they expect of me. Coach Smith wants guys to play with a lot of emotion on game day, really fired up."

That emotion has been perfect for Peterson at times. In 2007, Del Rio caused a major stir on the Jaguars when he cut quarterback Byron Leftwich(notes) on the eve of the season and made David Garrard(notes) the starter. With the team teetering emotionally over the departure of the popular Leftwich, it was Peterson who stood up in a meeting and said that the players needed to get behind Garrard. The Jaguars went on to go 11-5, beat the Pittsburgh Steelers on the road in the playoffs and played New England tough for three quarters before losing in the second round.

Last year, however, Peterson's emotions got the best of him. In November, Peterson was benched by Del Rio for insubordination. A week later, Peterson lost his starting job at middle linebacker. From there, he played primarily as a reserve and then was allowed to leave via free agency in the offseason.

"We butted heads at the end, but that happens," Peterson said. "We're OK. It's no hard feelings between me and Jack. I was with him for six years and I respect him. I know what that was all about. Jack was a linebacker, I'm a linebacker. We're two guys with the same mentality and we ran into each other one time. That happens."

But when given a chance, Peterson went straight to Smith. It was a classic veteran move that more players would be wise to repeat. Often times, there's a temptation for players to simply chase the most money they can find.

The better choice, if there is one, is to go to a coach who knows you well and knows how to use you.

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