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Falcons thriving as NFL’s least-penalized team


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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP)—The Falcons continue to win close games as their opponents keep drawing penalties.

Opponent penalties are big reason why Atlanta (10-2) has won six straight by an average of seven points. Tampa Bay discovered as much last week.

Falcons receiver Brian Finneran(notes) isn’t complaining.

“I think we take more shots down the field, and you get more defensive pass interferences,” Finneran said Friday. “We’ll take as many freebies as we can get.”

Atlanta’s offense, which leads the NFL with 31 first downs drawn by penalty, picked up 25 yards on their winning drive when Buccaneers cornerback Ronde Barber(notes) was flagged for pass interference and linebacker Quincy Black(notes) for a personal foul.

After Black’s penalty moved Atlanta to the 16-yard line, quarterback Matt Ryan(notes) and receiver Michael Jenkins(notes) hooked up for a short touchdown pass.

“We made mistakes across the board at the end,” Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris said, “and weren’t able to finish it out.”

Those type of mistakes have helped the Falcons improve to 9-0 this season when opponents commit more penalties. The Bucs had nine for minus-102 yards and Atlanta six for minus-55.

On Sunday at Carolina (1-11), Atlanta hopes to take advantage of a Panthers team that’s committed 24 penalties that converted first downs, fourth-most in the NFC. The Falcons’ offense and defense have combined to allow just 12 first downs via penalty, but the offense has been particularly blessed of late.

During the six-game winning streak, opponent penalties have led to 74 of Atlanta’s 174 points.

“We take pride in doing everything right,” receiver Harry Douglas(notes) said. “It’s a big part of our identity, and we’ve been doing that. You can’t have penalties.”

Falcons coach Mike Smith(notes) isn’t concerned so much with the total number of penalties as he is with the situation, but he is proud that Atlanta has been flagged just 60 times, an NFL low, and that only 48 were accepted.

“The three things that we really emphasize are third-down penalties, fourth-quarter penalties, and special teams penalties,” Smith said. “Special teams penalties are big because they’re not necessarily a 5-yard penalty or a 10-yard penalty. They are spot fouls. That can really change the field position.”

That certainly was the case in a three-point win over Green Bay two weeks ago. Eric Weems(notes) returned a kickoff 40 yards, but a facemask penalty on Matt Wilhelm(notes) let Atlanta start the winning drive at the Packers’ 49.

But Weems, who last week ran back a kickoff 103 yards, knows the dark side of penalties, too. In the fourth quarter of a five-point win over Baltimore four weeks ago, a 53-yard punt was wiped out when Weems went out of bounds on the coverage team.

The Ravens’ ensuing drive began at their 28 instead. Eight plays later, Baltimore took a one-point lead with barely a minute remaining.

Like Weems against the Ravens, Atlanta strong safety William Moore(notes) was bailed out by his teammates in the Nov. 7 win over Tampa Bay. He was flagged for pass interference, but free safety ended the Bucs’ chances a few plays later by stuffing running back LeGarrette Blount(notes) on fourth-and-1 at the 2.

“It can cut both ways,” Moore said. “I’ve been fortunate to be in position to make some good plays on defense (with four interceptions), but I’m not perfect, and sometimes we make mistakes. What killed me was that the pass interference call came in the fourth quarter.”

That’s because Smith is always preaching about avoiding penalties that are less timely than others.

“We place a big emphasis on staying in a positive direction,” Falcons receiver Harry Douglas said. “When you start going negative, that’s when you find more losses.”

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The Falcons’ offense and defense have combined to allow just 12 first downs via penalty, but the offense has been particularly blessed of late.

I didn't quite understand this. Our offense has allowed some first downs?

You know...I love our team this year. We win, but we win because we don't make mistakes. We're boring, frankly. We win by long drives. Not making mistakes. We don't turn over the ball. We don't get penalized. I can't imagine how frustrating it must be to the opposition. I guess, given how boring our style of play is, I can understand why some people think we're lucky, or why they think we're not as good as we are.

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I didn't quite understand this. Our offense has allowed some first downs?

Yeah I dont get what they mean there. All I know is Smith and company have this team in a great place. They are very disciplined, and that goes along way. I think it is the Chargers that were number one in offense and defense and had a bad record because they gave up a ton of penalty yards. It may not seem like alot but it goes a long way. Very happy to have a guy like Smith coaching this team.

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Nice post. Our philosophy is really football 101 on steroids. Thats why I can't stand the skinny journalists with pipe cleaners for arms who are such proponents of the big play passing game. You can even expand that to the current commissioner of the NFL. I love black and blue football. Give me a field position defensive chess match that ends 14 to 10 any day over a game with no defense that ends 35 to 28 with diva receivers doing some kind of "look at how wonderful I am" celebration in the end zone.

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Nice post. Our philosophy is really football 101 on steroids. Thats why I can't stand the skinny journalists with pipe cleaners for arms who are such proponents of the big play passing game. You can even expand that to the current commissioner of the NFL. I love black and blue football. Give me a field position defensive chess match that ends 14 to 10 any day over a game with no defense that ends 35 to 28 with diva receivers doing some kind of "look at how wonderful I am" celebration in the end zone.

Nice post by you as well, sir.

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