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Falcons embracing the underdog role

The SportsXchange

ATLANTA -- Most of the pundits are not giving the Atlanta Falcons much of a chance against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday, despite the game being played in the Georgia Dome.

For the old timers, there was similar talk before the team headed to Minnesota to play the Vikings back in 1999. They were heavy underdogs but prevailed in overtime and went to the franchise's first and only Super Bowl.

The Falcons are fine with being 5-point underdogs at home and not getting much respect from the national media despite a 14-3 record. San Francisco is 12-4-1.

"We have the 53 (players) in this locker room, that's all that we need," running back Michael Turner said. "To get respect, we have to earn it. We are not expecting any handouts. We know that San Fran isn't going to lay down. They are going to come in here and fight hard. We are going to fight hard back."

Some people contend the 49ers have the upper hand because they reached the NFC Championship Game last season before losing to the New York Giants, 20-17.

"I think they have a better understanding because they came out of nowhere and made it to the NFC championship last year with a new head coach and everything," said Turner, who played in the 2007 AFC Championship Game with the San Diego Chargers, who lost to the New England Patriots 21-12. "This year, they are going to feel more comfortable. They know what to expect and what type of games it's going to be."

The Falcons, who rushed for 167 yards against Seattle last weekend, believe that it is vital to keep their rushing attack rolling to have a chance against the 49ers.

"If felt good to play a major part," said fullback Mike Cox. "Just being out there and playing more snaps, I get a better connection with the running backs and stuff, too."

The 49ers have a stout run defense.

"They are a physical group," Cox said. "Very athletic and fast. But this is the final four to go to the Super Bowl. We wouldn't expect anything less, so we're going to be on top of our game."

The Falcons want to run the ball and win the time-of-possession battle in order to help the defense.

"He's a dangerous weapon at quarterback, the guy (quarterback Colin Kaepernick) over there," Turner said. "We are going to keep it out of his hands as much as possible. On the other end, we have to score points."
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