The Atlanta Falcons, one of the NFL’s top rushing teams thanks to Turner, look to at least keep pace in the NFC South when they visit the struggling Chargers on Sunday.
Turner has been perhaps the best free-agent pickup of the offseason, helping to make Atlanta (7-4) a surprise playoff contender by easing much of the burden that has been placed on rookie quarterback Matt Ryan. The Falcons are second in the NFL in rushing with 151.5 yards per game, and Turner tops the league with 251 carries.
In a key 45-28 win over division-leading Carolina last Sunday, Turner tied an Atlanta record with four rushing touchdowns. He finished with 117 yards, going over 1,000 for the first time in his career.
Turner was excellent as Tomlinson’s backup with San Diego (4-7), averaging 5.5 yards per carry. He wasn’t needed much, with the Chargers relying on Tomlinson, the two-time defending NFL rushing champion.
Now, however, Tomlinson is having the worst year of his eight-season career and Turner is flourishing. Tomlinson was slowed for much of the season’s first half by a sore big toe, and San Diego has become more of a passing team.
He has rushed for 770 yards, 3.8 per carry, and has one TD in his last seven games. San Diego, perennially one of the league’s top rushing teams, is 25th in the NFL with 95.5 yards a game.
And while the Chargers only have a shot at reaching the playoffs because the AFC West has been so bad, the Falcons have become one of the league’s top teams after going 4-12 last season.
With Turner leading the way, Atlanta set a season high for points last Sunday, surpassing a 38-14 win over Kansas City on Sept. 21.
Ryan continues to have a solid season, going 17-for-27 for 259 yards last week to help the Falcons win for the third time in their last four games. Atlanta trails Tampa Bay and Carolina by one game in the division.
Rookie wide receiver Harry Douglas may be developing into another weapon for Ryan to utilize, and he’s coming off his best game by far. Douglas caught four balls for 92 yards, had three punt returns for 93 yards and scored Atlanta’s first TD after taking a pitch from Ryan.
“Whatever they need me to do, wherever they need me to play, that’s why I’m here,” Douglas said.
Defense has been the Falcons’ biggest concern, allowing 20 points or more in nine games, and John Abraham sustained a mild concussion last week. Abraham, among the league leaders with 12 sacks, participated in practice Friday and promised to play in this game.
“I’m good,” he said. “I’ll be ready to go.”
San Diego, though, is still in the playoff chase despite losing four of its last five games. The Chargers trail Denver by two games in the West.
“That’s the only positive spin you can put on this whole deal is that we’re still two games back with five to go and we get a chance at the team were chasing the last game of the year,” San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers said.
“As bad as it’s been and as tough as it’s been, again, I don’t know how many weeks we’ll be able to say it, but at least one more week, this week, we can say it, we’re still in the hunt for everything we set out to accomplish.”
Atlanta has won four straight against San Diego and leads the series 6-1. In the teams’ last meeting, the Falcons won 21-20 at home on Oct. 17, 2004.