Atlanta (6-6) at Tampa Bay (3-9)

Cloudy Currently: Tampa, FL
Temp: 80° F
  • Game info: 1:00 pm EST Sun Dec 10, 2006
  • TV: FOX
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If the Atlanta Falcons continue to do what works, quarterback Michael Vick could be an NFL record holder by the end of this week.

Vick and the Falcons (6-6) look to run over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-9) when the teams meet Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.

Vick needs 40 yards to become the NFL’s single-season leader for rushing yards by a quarterback, surpassing Bobby Douglass, who had 968 for Chicago in 1972.

Atlanta’s star QB is third with 929 yards, trailing Douglass and Randall Cunningham, who had 942 in 1990. There’s a chance Vick could reach the 1,000-yard mark, but the Falcons will be happy just to see Vick—or any of their playmakers—gaining yards on the ground Sunday after they snapped a four-game losing streak by pounding the ball.

Atlanta led the NFL in rushing last season, and the running attack was a big reason why it started 5-2 this year. The Falcons got away from that during an 0-4 November that severely damaged their playoff chances.

With the team on the verge of falling apart for the second consecutive season—Atlanta lost six of eight in 2005 to finish 8-8 and miss the playoffs— the Falcons rallied from a 14-0 deficit Sunday against Washington to win 24-14.

“I felt like we got back to what we’ve done, what we did at the beginning of the year,” running back Warrick Dunn said. “As backs, we like it when we can throw the football. But our bread-and-butter is setting it up with the run.”

Atlanta rushed for 256 yards and scored 24 unanswered points, capped by rookie Jerious Norwood’s twisting, turning 69-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter that helped put the Falcons right back in the playoff race. They are tied with three teams for the two wild-card spots.

Norwood finished with 107 yards, Dunn added 87 and Vick had 59 as the Falcons wore down the Redskins, an approach they hope translates into more victories to end the year.

Dunn needs 48 yards to reach 1,000 for the third straight season and Atlanta is the only NFL team that has two players with at least 900 rushing yards, but it’s Norwood who could see more carries down the stretch as the Falcons try to get some relief for the banged-up Vick.

“He’s unbelievable,” center Todd McClure said of Norwood. “He doesn’t run like anyone I’ve ever seen. He’s got a totally different running style … the way he cuts, his reads. It’s not necessarily in the system, but it works for him because he makes it work. He’s not your everyday back.”

The Falcons ran all over Tampa Bay in their Sept. 17 meeting, rolling up a franchise-record 306 yards on the ground in a 14-3 home victory.

Dunn had 134 yards against his former team, Vick had 127 and Norwood finished with 45 as the Falcons averaged 7.0 yards per carry.

Atlanta, however, remembers the last time it went to Tampa Bay with playoff hopes. In Week 15 last season, Matt Bryant kicked a 41-yard field goal with 15 seconds remaining in overtime to give the Buccaneers a 27-24 victory and eliminate the Falcons from playoff contention.

Tampa Bay has won nine of the last 12 meetings between the teams and Bucs coach Jon Gruden is 7-3 against Atlanta, but this season has been a major disappointment.

The Bucs got off to an 0-4 start, and with quarterback Chris Simms out for the season after having his spleen removed, Tampa Bay has gone with rookie Bruce Gradkowski at the position.

The Bucs have struggled to score points, and last week became the first team in 73 years to avoid a shutout with a field goal on the last play of the game when Bryant kicked a 27-yarder in their 20-3 loss to Pittsburgh.

Gruden said he kicked the field goal so that Gradkowski, who grew up in Pittsburgh, would have something positive to take away from his first NFL game there.

Gradkowski will take any positives he can get as the Bucs offense continues to sputter. Tampa Bay is averaging 254 yards of offense, 30th in the NFL, and Gradkowski has a 66.1 passer rating, the NFC’s lowest.

Gruden, though, says he’s sticking with the sixth-round pick from Toledo.

“I don’t foresee a quarterback change, although if we continue to throw interceptions it will be a change we obviously need to make,” he said.

“There are some things Bruce did well in the game. There are some things he obviously didn’t do well. We had five balls dropped, some game-changing drops. We’ve got to play a lot better as an offensive football team.”

Tampa Bay has turned the ball over 12 times in the last four games, including eight interceptions by Gradkowski.

Both Gradkowski and the Bucs, however, have played much better at home. All of Tampa Bay’s wins this season have come at Raymond James Stadium, and the Bucs are 4-1 at home against the Falcons since 1999.

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