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Leading a defense and loving football? That's more like Mike

You play 10 years in the NFL, doing everything you can to be a good team guy and earn a reputation as a player who loves the game, loves to practice and truly enjoys being a captain and leader. And then one incident changes it all, and your reputation goes downhill faster than a shady investment bank. How do you deal with that?

"It wasn't easy," Atlanta Falcons linebacker Mike Peterson said. "I had to deal with the label that I was a bad guy in the locker room. I had one problem with the head coach one time and I was labeled a bad guy. After all the wars I had been through with them, I was labeled a bad guy?"

Peterson is happy now, starting at weak-side linebacker for a Falcons squad that has the look of a playoff team and potential Super Bowl contender. He had a forced fumble and an interception last week in a victory over Miami, making him a key player on a Falcons defense that looked better than anticipated.

But last spring he wasn't sure where he would play -- or if he could shed the dark shadow that was following him.

That gloomy shadow came because of an incident that happened during the 2008 season when Peterson was with the Jacksonville Jaguars, one that led to him being suspended for a game and ultimately benched.

During a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, Peterson flexed after a sack, even though his team was trailing. During the next day's film session, Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio called him out. Peterson, who was a team captain, didn't take too kindly to the verbal beat-down and tried to defend what he did, even though Del Rio had warned the team he didn't want to hear a thing from them during the meeting.

Words were exchanged and Peterson was banished from the room and was then was suspended for a game.

His reputation went lower than he felt.

"If I could change anything I would have said something to him after the meeting," Peterson said. "That was probably the right thing to do. But one incident shouldn't have given me the bad-guy label."

Peterson, who also was unhappy he didn't get a new contract he thought he deserved before the season, didn't get come back to his starting job, but did return to the lineup late when injuries struck the linebackers. He never moped and didn't explode on Del Rio publicly, even though he was seething inside.

Yet when the team opted not to re-sign Peterson and he became a free agent, he found himself facing those nasty questions about his reputation.

"My agent heard them more than I did," Peterson said. "He had to answer a lot of them."

One person who didn't need the question answered was Falcons coach Mike Smith. He came to the Falcons after serving as the Jaguars' defensive coordinator for five seasons. He knew all about Peterson's passion for the game.

"I had a relationship with Mike and it's always been positive both on and off the field," Smith said.

"Smitty didn't ask me one question about it," Peterson said. "That says something about him."

The Falcons needed a veteran presence at linebacker. Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff wanted someone who could work with second-year player Curtis Lofton in the middle and third-year player Stephen Nicholas on the strong-side, yet still have the game to help on defense.

Peterson, who played most of the past six years in Jacksonville in the middle, was signed to a two-year deal and placed back at outside linebacker, his more natural spot. That's the position he played in Indianapolis before signing with the Jaguars in 2003.

"I feel like I've come home," he said. "That's where I made my money."

The book on Peterson, according to some scouts, was that he had slowed down the last few years. At 33, that's a natural inclination. But it didn't look that way in the opener. To help with his speed and quickness, Peterson dropped his playing weight down to 230. He played at 237 in Jacksonville. He also trimmed his body fat, which is evident when you look at him.

"I can make more plays now that I couldn't make in the middle," he said. "I can get more big hits. You get running starts to the ball carrier."

He had a huge one last week against Miami. With the Falcons leading 7-0, Miami was driving. The Dolphins were at the Atlanta 16 when Chad Pennington hit tight end Anthony Fasano on a short pass. Fasano was hit first by Lofton and then Peterson laid him out, causing a fumble that Brian Williams returned 53 yards to set up a field goal and a 10-0 lead.

"Curtis hit him first, but I cleaned it up," Peterson said.

He later had an interception in zone coverage to set up a touchdown to go along with his seven tackles.

Peterson is one of those players you hear before you see on the practice field. He loves competition, and let's his mouth run wild during practices. During training camp, Smith let Peterson make the defensive calls during a two-minute drill. When the defense stopped the offense, you could hear Peterson yell across the field -- at Smith.

"Smitty!" he yelled. "We got them! We got them!"

"He's always fun and makes it competitive," Smith said. "Yeah, you can hear him."

He wanted people to hear him last spring as he tried to fix a damaged reputation. But how do you fight the perception that you're a bad locker-room guy, when the reality isn't close to that?

"People got one side of the story and ran with it," Peterson said. "But that's history now. I think the people who know me know what I can do. They know the kind of player I am and the kind of person I am. You just have to learn from it and move on. It's history now."

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Leading a defense and loving football? That's more like Mike

You play 10 years in the NFL, doing everything you can to be a good team guy and earn a reputation as a player who loves the game, loves to practice and truly enjoys being a captain and leader. And then one incident changes it all, and your reputation goes downhill faster than a shady investment bank. How do you deal with that?

"It wasn't easy," Atlanta Falcons linebacker Mike Peterson said. "I had to deal with the label that I was a bad guy in the locker room. I had one problem with the head coach one time and I was labeled a bad guy. After all the wars I had been through with them, I was labeled a bad guy?"

Peterson is happy now, starting at weak-side linebacker for a Falcons squad that has the look of a playoff team and potential Super Bowl contender. He had a forced fumble and an interception last week in a victory over Miami, making him a key player on a Falcons defense that looked better than anticipated.

But last spring he wasn't sure where he would play -- or if he could shed the dark shadow that was following him.

That gloomy shadow came because of an incident that happened during the 2008 season when Peterson was with the Jacksonville Jaguars, one that led to him being suspended for a game and ultimately benched.

During a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, Peterson flexed after a sack, even though his team was trailing. During the next day's film session, Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio called him out. Peterson, who was a team captain, didn't take too kindly to the verbal beat-down and tried to defend what he did, even though Del Rio had warned the team he didn't want to hear a thing from them during the meeting.

Words were exchanged and Peterson was banished from the room and was then was suspended for a game.

His reputation went lower than he felt.

"If I could change anything I would have said something to him after the meeting," Peterson said. "That was probably the right thing to do. But one incident shouldn't have given me the bad-guy label."

Peterson, who also was unhappy he didn't get a new contract he thought he deserved before the season, didn't get come back to his starting job, but did return to the lineup late when injuries struck the linebackers. He never moped and didn't explode on Del Rio publicly, even though he was seething inside.

Yet when the team opted not to re-sign Peterson and he became a free agent, he found himself facing those nasty questions about his reputation.

"My agent heard them more than I did," Peterson said. "He had to answer a lot of them."

One person who didn't need the question answered was Falcons coach Mike Smith. He came to the Falcons after serving as the Jaguars' defensive coordinator for five seasons. He knew all about Peterson's passion for the game.

"I had a relationship with Mike and it's always been positive both on and off the field," Smith said.

"Smitty didn't ask me one question about it," Peterson said. "That says something about him."

The Falcons needed a veteran presence at linebacker. Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff wanted someone who could work with second-year player Curtis Lofton in the middle and third-year player Stephen Nicholas on the strong-side, yet still have the game to help on defense.

Peterson, who played most of the past six years in Jacksonville in the middle, was signed to a two-year deal and placed back at outside linebacker, his more natural spot. That's the position he played in Indianapolis before signing with the Jaguars in 2003.

"I feel like I've come home," he said. "That's where I made my money."

The book on Peterson, according to some scouts, was that he had slowed down the last few years. At 33, that's a natural inclination. But it didn't look that way in the opener. To help with his speed and quickness, Peterson dropped his playing weight down to 230. He played at 237 in Jacksonville. He also trimmed his body fat, which is evident when you look at him.

"I can make more plays now that I couldn't make in the middle," he said. "I can get more big hits. You get running starts to the ball carrier."

He had a huge one last week against Miami. With the Falcons leading 7-0, Miami was driving. The Dolphins were at the Atlanta 16 when Chad Pennington hit tight end Anthony Fasano on a short pass. Fasano was hit first by Lofton and then Peterson laid him out, causing a fumble that Brian Williams returned 53 yards to set up a field goal and a 10-0 lead.

"Curtis hit him first, but I cleaned it up," Peterson said.

He later had an interception in zone coverage to set up a touchdown to go along with his seven tackles.

Peterson is one of those players you hear before you see on the practice field. He loves competition, and let's his mouth run wild during practices. During training camp, Smith let Peterson make the defensive calls during a two-minute drill. When the defense stopped the offense, you could hear Peterson yell across the field -- at Smith.

"Smitty!" he yelled. "We got them! We got them!"

"He's always fun and makes it competitive," Smith said. "Yeah, you can hear him."

He wanted people to hear him last spring as he tried to fix a damaged reputation. But how do you fight the perception that you're a bad locker-room guy, when the reality isn't close to that?

"People got one side of the story and ran with it," Peterson said. "But that's history now. I think the people who know me know what I can do. They know the kind of player I am and the kind of person I am. You just have to learn from it and move on. It's history now."

BOSS ....... OVER THERE IN RIVAL CENTRAL I'M PROBABLY KNOW AS A BAD GUY. I KNOW I AM WITH THE RIVALS. BUT SOMETIMES WITH OTHER FALCON FANS TOO. I LIKE THE BAD BOY IMAGE. I HAVE NO REPUTATION TO PROTECT. PETERSON MAY HAVE GOTTEN A BAD LABLE. NOT ME. I DESERVE WHAT EVER IT IS. REALLY THOUGH ...... I JUST LIKE A GOOD FIGHT. :rolleyes:

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