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Falcons savor NFL's last perfect record during bye

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Falcons savor NFL's last perfect record during bye

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Then there was one.

The Atlanta Falcons (6-0) woke up Monday as the NFL's last unbeaten team, the distinction all to themselves after Green Bay knocked off Houston the night before. They'll be able to savor their status, too, with a bye coming up and nothing on the schedule the rest of the week.

Coach Mike Smith broke with the way he's done things in previous years, deciding to give his players the entire week off rather than holding a couple of practices. Several dozen players came in to the training complex the day after a 23-20 victory over Oakland, but that was merely to get treatment and maybe look at a little film.

Otherwise, they're free to go.

See you next Monday.

``It's very important for us - the players and the coaches - to disconnect a little bit,'' Smith said.

The decision had nothing to do with the Falcons' glittering record. The coach graphed out this schedule back in April when he saw where the bye week fell, essentially right in the middle of the 20-week schedule (counting the four preseason games).

``I try to let the guys know well in advance what the schedule is going to be,'' Smith said. ``This is just the way we wanted to approach it this year. You don't get a whole lot out of those two practices during the bye week. It's like pulling teeth. It's like the last day before Christmas vacation.''

The Falcons are off to the best start in franchise history and already hold a commanding lead in the NFC South - 3 1/2 games ahead of Tampa Bay, 4 1/2 ahead of both defending division champion New Orleans and Carolina.

But Smith doesn't want his team thinking about loftier goals, such as home-field advantage throughout the playoffs or even winning the franchise's first Super Bowl championship, although being the last team to lose in any given season is often a good title omen.

There's still plenty of work to do, starting with the running game.

Atlanta has put much more emphasis on moving the ball through the air, wanting to take advantage of myriad weapons (quarterback Matt Ryan, tight end Tony Gonzalez, receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones). Nothing wrong with that decision, but spreading things out seems to have taken a toll on the once-dominant ground attack led by Michael Turner.

Also, the Falcons have struggled to prevent other teams from running, a double-whammy that Smith plans to address with his assistants even while the players are enjoying their down time.

``We've got to be consistent in everything we do,'' he said. ``We haven't run the ball consistently, and we're not stopping the run. Those two things stand out the most.''

The Falcons are averaging just 86.5 yards per game on the ground, which ranks 25th in the league, and they struggled in short-yardage situations against the Raiders. For instance, after John Abraham caused a fumble and Ray Edwards returned it to the Oakland 2, Atlanta was forced to settle for a field goal. After an incomplete pass, Turner was stopped short of the end zone and Jason Snelling was thrown for a 2-yard loss on third down, with the ball no more than a foot from the goal line.

Just as troubling, the Falcons surrendered 149 yards rushing to the Raiders, who came in averaging a league-worst 60.8 per game. Atlanta is surrendering 143.8 overall, a dismal 27th in the league rankings.

``We had a bunch of missed tackles - about twice as many as we expect in a normal game,'' Smith said. ``That lent itself to the explosive plays we saw from the Raiders. Most of the time in those situations, it's not great execution by the offense. The majority of time, it's missed assignments and missed tackles.''

One thing Smith isn't concerned about: winning three straight close games, by a total of 12 points, against teams that wouldn't be considered among the NFL elite.

The Falcons rallied to beat Carolina (1-4) on Matt Bryant's field goal with 5 seconds remaining, and needed another clutch kick from Bryant - a 55-yarder with 1 second left - to get by the Raiders (1-4). In between, Atlanta edged the Redskins (3-3) after knocking Robert Griffin III out of the game with a concussion.

Smith and his players aren't fretting over style points.

They only care about scoring more points.

``Bottom line, we just need to keep winning,'' said Ryan, who bounced back from three first-half interceptions against Oakland to complete five passes on the final drive of the game, setting up Bryant's field goal. ``Certainly we all have the mindset that we need improve, and we do. Everybody needs to take some time on the bye week and evaluate themselves, self-scout a little bit, and determine areas where we need to get better.''

But, he quickly added, ``At this point in the NFL regular season, it's all about getting wins. We've done a good job of that so far.''

The way things are going, the Falcons sort of hate to take a week off. Still, given what awaits them after the break - a trip to Philadelphia to face Michael Vick and the Eagles, followed by a prime-time game at home against the Dallas Cowboys - this is a good time to pause.

``We certainly wish we could keep playing, but a bye week is always good for a ballclub,'' White said. ``We're going to relax, get healthy and prepare for two tough weeks of football.''

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Need to Know: Redskins stock up-stock down during vs. Panthers

Need to Know: Redskins stock up-stock down during vs. Panthers

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, October 15, six days before the Washington Redskins host the Dallas Cowboys.

Talking points

Here are the players who saw their stock go up against the Panthers on Sunday and others who saw their stocks drop. 

Stock up—A few days ago, CB Josh Norman was a penny stock. He had mixed up assignments in the blowout loss to the Saints and take a ton of criticism after the game, much of it warranted. During the Panthers game, he was a blue chip. Norman got his first interception in 20 games and he forced a fumble. There is still a lot of season to be played but for now, at least it’s good to be Josh Norman.

Stock down—They won the game and that’s the quarterback’s main job. But for the second straight game, Alex Smith did not play up to his $18.4 million cap number. He passed for 163 yards. At times you really wondered where he was throwing the ball and/or to whom he was throwing it. They were able to win thanks to Adrian Peterson’s rushing and three takeaways. To Smith’s credit, he protected the ball well and it should be noted he was without favorite targets, Chris Thompson and Jamison Crowder. Regardless, it was not a sharp performance by Smith. 

Stock upPeterson came into the game with an injured ankle, knee, and shoulder. Not only did he fight through the pain, he thrived. Six days after he rushed for just six yards against the Saints and sat out most of the second half, he picked up 97 yards on 17 carries, an average of 5.7 yards per carry. Peterson did rip off a 19-yard run but mostly it was three yards here, six yards there. It was what the Redskins were expecting when the signed him. 

Stock down—With Thompson out, Kapri Bibbs had his big chance to show what he can do. He didn’t do much. Bibbs, who was promoted from the practice squad earlier this season, picked up 11 yards rushing on two carries and he caught one pass for six yards. There were some high hopes for Bibbs among Redskins fans. For today, he didn’t live up to them. 

Stock up—I know that Daron Payne didn’t make a ton of plays and his streak of games with at least one sack ended at two. But he was part of a defensive front that held Christian McCaffrey, who came into the game averaging 82.3 rushing yards per game (fourth in the NFL) and 5.2 yards per attempt, to 20 yards on eight attempts, a 2.5 per carry average. And he made a remarkable play, which is becoming routine for him, when he made the tackle on a tight end who had taken a screen pass well outside of the numbers. He’s a special talent and his stock will continue to rise. 

The agenda

Today: Open locker room 11:30; Jay Gruden press conference 3:00 

Upcoming: Cowboys @ Redskins 6; Redskins @ Giants 13; Redskins @ Eagles 49

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What Adrian Peterson did on Sunday really is absurd

What Adrian Peterson did on Sunday really is absurd

FEDEX FIELD -- Coming into Sunday's game, the Redskins listed Adrian Peterson as questionable for the game against the Panthers. 

And why wouldn't they?

The future Hall of Famer separated his shoulder last week in a loss to the Saints. In that same game, he got blasted in the knee on a play that many thought would cost Peterson the season. And before the Redskins bye, in a 120-yard effort in a win over the Packers, Peterson took a helmet directly off his ankle. 

Calling AP banged up for the Panthers game is unfair to banged up players. 

Peterson was hurt, from top to bottom. 

Yet, despite the injuries, he still went out and rushed for 97 yards on 17 carries, good for a 5.7 yards-per-carry average. 

"I had already made up in my mind Friday, 'Hey, I'm going to give it a go,' and I know it's going to be painful but it's mind over matter and keep pressing," Peterson said following the 23-17 Redskins win. 

"So that's what I ended up doing."

In a remarkable endeavor, Peterson was the most consistent player on the offense. Alex Smith played fine but not necessarily good.

The Redskins offense needs more from Smith, but couldn't even ask for anything else from Peterson. 

"I can't say enough about what he did today, playing through the pain of the shoulder and the knee," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said of Peterson. "What a pro. What a pro he is."

In the second half, when the Redskins pass game really fell apart, Washington leaned on Peterson even more. It wasn't pretty, but the team got enough to eat up possession and pad the lead with field goals. 

"Adrian Peterson ran hard," Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. "I think he created the opportunity for them down the stretch to control the clock a little bit."

Rivera is right. 

Without Peterson, the Redskins probably don't win on Sunday. 

And it's even more remarkable that none of this was supposed to happen. The Redskins seemed reluctant to even give Peterson a tryout after rookie Derrius Guice went down in the preseason. Guice was the plan, and Peterson wasn't even really the backup.

Back then, Gruden explained that Peterson was simply too impressive in his August workout for the team to do anything but sign him to the active roster. 

Now, five games into the season, averaging well more than 4 yards-per-carry and on pace to lead the Redskins in rush yards, it's hard to imagine what Washington's offense would look like without Peterson. 

Sure, he's 33-years-old, but he's also the Redskins most consistent offensive threat. 

Asked what surprised him during his team's loss, Rivera inadvertently summed up the Peterson experience.

"I don't think there was anything surprising. They're a good football team. They run the ball extremely well with Adrian."

Rivera is right.

The Redskins run the ball extremely well with Peterson.

Even with the separated shoulder, the busted knee, the bruised ankle. On Sunday, the Redskins ran the ball extremely well with Peterson.

And that says a lot about Adrian Peterson. 

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