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Playoff hopefuls square off in Cleveland
(Sports Network) - The Atlanta Falcons and the Cleveland Browns are both
hoping to earn a berth in the playoffs, and are both in need of a victory this
week when they meet in a Week 17 affair on Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
The Falcons snapped a two-game losing streak last week when they defeated the
Detroit Lions, 36-15. Michael Vick completed 20-of-38 passes, while throwing
for a career-high 337 yards and two scores, while Warrick Dunn rushed 30 times
for 132 yards and a touchdown. WR Quentin McCord finished with a career-high
seven catches for 182 yards and a score.
"It's something I've been waiting to do since my career started this year,"
Vick said about his 300-yard game. "We were fortunate to come out and have a
great day and play some real good football. We played fundamentally sound up
front. Everybody did their jobs. Quentin McCord stepped up big. He played like
we knew he was capable of playing. Overall, it was just a great win."
This week, the Falcons can clinch a playoff berth with a win or a tie, a loss
or tie by the New York Giants, who play Philadelphia, or a loss or tie by the
New Orleans Saints, who do battle with the Carolina Panthers.
The Browns defeated the Baltimore Ravens 14-13 last week to keep their playoff
hopes alive. Tim Couch completed 22-of-31 passes for 209 yards, including a
one-yard touchdown pass to Mark Campbell with 29 seconds remaining to give the
Browns the win.
"That's what this team has been about all year long," said Cleveland head
coach Butch Davis. "They have wanted to play meaningful games in December and
we certainly put ourselves in that situation. I don't think there was one
threat of panic."
The Browns can earn a playoff spot this week, but they need quite a bit of
help. The Browns need a win, coupled with a Denver Broncosí win over the
Arizona Cardinals and a New York Jetsí win over the Green Bay Packers, or a
win, plus a Kansas City Chiefsí loss or tie to the Raiders and a Jetsí win, or
a Broncosí win, coupled with a win or tie by the Miami Dolphins in their game
against the New England Patriots. Also, a win, plus a Chiefsí loss or tie,
coupled with a Dolphinsí win or tie would give the Browns a postseason berth,
as would a win, plus a Jetsí loss, a Patriotsí loss, a Broncosí loss or tie, a
Chiefsí loss and a San Diego Chargersí loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Also, a
Patriotsí loss, coupled with a Jetsí loss, a Baltimore Ravensí loss or tie to
the Pittsburgh Steelers, a Broncosí loss, a Chargersí loss and a Chiefsí loss
would give the Browns a playoff spot.
SERIES HISTORY: The Browns have an 8-2 record versus the Falcons, but in the
last meeting, in November 1993, it was Atlanta who walked away with a 17-14
win, as Atlanta QB Bobby Hebert threw a pair of TD strikes.
Dan Reeves is 10-2 versus the Browns, while Davis has never faced the Falcons
FALCONS OFFENSE VS. BROWNS DEFENSE
The Falcons' offense seemed to get back on track last week, as McCord looked
like a quality starting wideout. Going into the game, McCord had only caught
four passes for 59 yards in his two-year career.
"I've been waiting for this opportunity," McCord said. "Fortunately, Vick came
to me early. I made a couple of plays and he felt comfortable enough to keep
coming to me."
Vick also improved last week. After a pair of sub-par games, Vick was back to
his old self, creating havoc for Detroit's defense. Vick leads an offense
that averages 25.7 points per game (fifth best in NFL), and has already run
for 739 yards, second on the team.
But the Falcons victory against the Lions did come with some bad news.
Fullback Bob Christian will miss this week's game with the Browns after
suffering his second concussion in two months.
The play occurred early in the fourth quarter when Christian caught a pass in
the right flat. After gaining 12 yards, linebacker Barrett Green hit the side
of Christian's helmet with his forearm, knocking him unconscious and causing
him to fumble.
"It is scary," Christian said. "You know, when I was in the ambulance, I was
feeling nauseous and I'm just trying to remember what happened. There's lot of
things I couldn't remember, and that's pretty scary.
"It's weird what you remember and what you know. I knew my mind wasn't working
exactly right and I was hoping things would clear up, so that's very scary."
Christian's absence will also hurt the team's offense. He was one of the key
blockers in the running game, and he also gave Vick a short option in the
passing game. He will be replaced in the lineup by second-year backup George
Layne, who was re-signed to the 53-man roster last month after sustaining a
concussion in August.
While the Falcons were happy with the victory, they were also disappointed
with their offense inside the red zone, as they scored just one touchdown on
five trips into the Detroit red zone.
"We just didn't execute like we can and like we should in the red zone,"
Falcons guard Kynan Forney said.
"When you don't score, it kind of upsets you," Vick said. "We're down there
five or six times, and we get five field goals in the first half and part of
the third quarter. It was tough."
While the Falcons' offense has faced many problems, the Browns' defense is
still not looking forward to the task of stopping Vick.
"When he becomes a complete quarterback and develops the intangibles, he's
going to be scary," said defensive end Kenard Lang. "I want to see him two to
three years from now. He'll be a Hall of Famer."
This week, the Browns' defense is focused on making the playoffs. And the
unit, which allows an average of 20.3 points per game and 334.5 yards per
game, is intent on getting a win that would put them in position to make the
"We knew it was all going to come down to the last week," safety Earl Little
said. "After all thatís happened, here we are. We just need to take care of
our own business and get some help from Miami and Denver or Oakland."
"It feels good to be in this position," defensive end Tyrone Rogers said.
"Iíve been here four years, and now we finally have an opportunity to go to
"I donít want to go home in January and watch my friends play," Lang added. "I
came here to Cleveland to go to the playoffs. Thatís why Butch Davis brought
BROWNS OFFENSE VS. FALCONS DEFENSE
Couch was praised for his efforts last week in the come from behind win over
the Ravens, but he gave a lot of credit to his teammates in the do or die
situation that saw the team march 92 yards that ended with his TD pass to
Campbell with 29 seconds left. The pass, coupled with the extra point by Phil
Dawson, gave the Browns the win.
"I walked into the huddle and told the guys, 'This is our season and we either
go home or continue to stay alive,'" Couch said. "They responded like I
thought they would."
The team will have to continue to respond. The Browns, who average 21.3 points
and 313.9 yards per game, will need a strong effort by the
offense, not only to score, but to keep Vick and company off the field.
Because of that, they will need to establish a running game early. On the
year, the Browns average just 94.5 rushing yards per game, but rookie RB
William Green has become a legitimate starting running back.
Couch could be without one of their primary targets this week, as Dennis
Northcutt is officially listed as questionable on the injury report.
Northcutt, who has scored eight touchdowns this year, hasnít played since
December 1 when he sprained the MCL in his right knee against Carolina.
"Iím just doing what I can to try to get back," Northcutt said. "There wasnít
any soreness or swelling last week, so weíll see. I would love to be back for
this game. I feel like I have to be out there but, at the same time, we arenít
going to do anything stupid."
In Northcutt's absence, Second year wideout Quincy Morgan has stepped up and
has become more involved in the offense. He is currently the team's big play
guy, having caught 54 passes for 932 yards and seven touchdowns.
"I've always been a big-play guy, for some reason," Morgan said. "I didn't
plan it that way, it just happened. I've never been one to catch 10 passes a
game. It's always been three for 100 yards, or something like that."
"This has been a great growth year for Quincy," Davis said. "He's certainly
built on what he did as a rookie."
Davis also praised the receiving corps for their downfield blocks, especially
in the running game, something Morgan is very proud of.
"Blocking is a mind-set, plain and simple," Morgan said. "You either want to
do it or you don't. I've always had the ability to block, but I didn't
concentrate on it until I got here. Now it's in my head. If you want to play
for this coaching staff, you have to be a good receiver and a good blocker."
This week, the Browns line up across from a stingy Falcons' defense that is
allowing just 19.3 points per game, sixth best in the NFL. The unit is holding
the opposition to under 20 points per game, despite giving up an average of
334.4 yards per game, but that can be explained by the team's big play
abilities. They are currently fourth in the NFL with 21 interceptions, and
fifth with 44 sacks.
Like the Browns, the Falcons' defense is hoping to get a win in order to
secure their playoff position.
"It's disappointing we put ourselves in this position, but the important thing
is we're alive," linebacker Keith Brooking said. "We're kicking, scratching,
bleeding and doing everything we can to get into the playoffs."
12/26 13:02:03 ET
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