Atlanta Falcons (1-0) at Seattle Seahawks (0-1)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 ET
GAME DATE: 9/18/05
TV: FOX, Kenny Albert, Brian Baldinger
SERIES: 10th meeting. The Seahawks took a 7-2 lead last season after they stopped Warrick Dunn's two-point conversion run on the final play of the game. This marks the second meeting in the last three regular-season games. Backup quarterback Matt Schaub, a rookie who played all of the second half because the Falcons had nothing at stake regarding their standing in postseason, directed an impressive 15-play drive that ended with his 3-yard touchdown pass to Brian Finneran. Dunn ran for 132 yards, marking the 20th time in his career that he hit the century mark. Seattle won the game to claim the NFC West title, but the Seahawk fans were dazzled by quarterback Michael Vick, who was 6 of 7 passing for 35 yards and a touchdown and ran three times for 13.
*2005 rankings: Falcons: offense 17th (2nd rush, 31st pass); defense 11th (6th rush, 23rd pass). Seahawks: offense 15th (17th rush, 14th pass); defense 23rd (22nd rush, 21st pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME: It's no secret the Falcons will come out and pound the ball with RBs Warrick Dunn and T.J. Duckett and QB Michael Vick. The question is, can the Seahawks do anything to stop it? Rookie MLB Lofa Tatupu had a solid opener, but the entire linebacking corps must have a solid game wrapping up Vick. If Seattle should have the advantage when Atlanta is forced to go to the air, but the Seahawks corners are coming off a disappointing opener. The Falcons' focus defensively will be on shutting down RB Shaun Alexander, who they held to 80 yards in last year's regular-season finale. When Alexander is ineffective, defenses can attack the weak right side of Seattle's offense line. QB Matt Hasselbeck made several poor decisions under pressure against Jacksonville, and Seattle knows Atlanta will bring the heat after constantly harassing Eagles QB Donovan McNabb on Monday night.
FAST FACTS: Falcons: Are 11-1 under coach Jim Mora when leading at halftime... Will travel 27,000 air miles this season, seventh-most in the NFL. Seahawks: WR Darrell Jackson's 35 career TD receptions ranks fourth on the team's all-time list. ... Lead the series 7-2 and have won the past three meetings.
--WR Roddy White returned to practice after missing Wednesday to give his injured right ankle more rest. The first-round pick is moving well, but he's still operating at approximately 85 percent.
--WLB Keith Brooking was back after missing Wednesday with a sore foot. He hasn't missed a game since 2000, so expect him to be in the lineup.
--CB Allen Rossum was out Thursday with a sore hamstring, and coach Jim Mora said the Falcons might wait until Sunday to make a decision. If Rossum can't play, that means DeAngelo Hall would return punts, Roddy White kickoffs and undrafted rookie Leigh Torrence would have a chance to work as the fourth corner.
--NT Chad Lavalais plans to appeal the $7,500 fine he received Thursday for the explosive hit he dealt Donovan McNabb, one that nearly knocked the Eagles QB out of the game.
--RDE Brady Smith said he resolved any timing issues that could have resulted from his missing the first four preseason games to recover from neck surgery.
--WR D.J. Hackett returned to practice Thursday. The team upgraded him to questionable. Hackett has not played much, but he showed enough in camp to make the Seahawks view him as a potential deep threat. The team lacks top-end speed at the position. Hackett will be given a chance to make plays if his health allows. Late news, however, has Hackett playing very little, if at all, on Sunday.
--WR Peter Warrick is getting more involved in practice after coach Mike Holmgren said the veteran wideout would become involved in the rotation this week. Questions remain as to whether Warrick's surgically repaired knee can take the pounding. Warrick will probably ease his way into action after missing all but four games to injury last season.
--TE Itula Mili will miss the Seahawks' home opener Sunday. Mili was suffering from intestinal blockage and has lost serious weight in the last week, but coach Mike Holmgren was quoted as saying that Mili would not need surgery in the short term. Jerramy Stevens will start at tight end for Seattle, with Ryan Hannam as the #2 man.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
Falcons: Entering Week 1, the Falcons had no active players nursing serious injuries. Kevin Mathis' nightmarish Monday-Thursday run, however, brought a sudden end to his season and affected the depth at cornerback considerably. Atlanta has turned once again to Christian Morton, signed off Washington's practice squad, in hopes that he can correct some of the rookie mistakes that plagued him in the NFC title game. Morton, a seventh-round draft pick last year for New England, has a chance to prove he belongs in the league, but he's on a short leash, relatively speaking. The Falcons essentially have a pretty good idea what Morton can and cannot do, which means he will stay if he performs well but likely would be released otherwise. They signed him to their practice squad last Dec. 7 and to the active roster 18 days later with Jason Webster still nursing a sore groin. In the Week 17 loss at Seattle, however, Webster's return coincided with Mathis' shoulder injury - a development that thrust Morton in as the nickel back.
The 6-foot, 180-pound Morton was inactive in the divisional playoff win over St. Louis, but Mathis' sprained ankle against the Rams put the former Illinois standout back in as the nickel back in the NFC title game. He avoided embarrassment until the second quarter, when Donovan McNabb and Greg Lewis burned him for a 45-yard pass down the left sideline. As Morton's feet became suddenly unstable, Lewis made the most of the underthrown pass that set up Chad Lewis' 2-yard touchdown catch on the next play. That score gave the Eagles a 14-3 lead. Even though Greg Lewis might have pushed off to beat Morton, the officials never noticed. Morton said later that he never thought McNabb would throw so deep with the wind blowing hard the other way.
In the third quarter, Morton committed an illegal contact penalty that contributed to a field goal that put Atlanta down 17-10. Morton, a 6-foot, 180 pounder, has adequate size to cover a big receiver or tight end, but he might not overcome a speed deficiency in his attempt to maintain a job the rest of the year, at least with the Falcons. Give Morton credit for wasting no time once he agreed to re-sign. Instead of leaving Redskins Park and driving straight to the airport, Morton drove
all night to the Falcons' headquarters.
"I saw him this morning, and he looked real tired," coach Jim Mora said. "I didn't know he drove, I thought he flew." Mora later stated that the staff sees no immediate upside to activating undrafted rookie Leigh Torrence, whom Atlanta signed when Green Bay released him in the final wave of cuts.
Seahawks: Seattle's receiving corps is in line for a potential shakeup now that WR D.J. Hackett and WR Peter Warrick appear near-ready to get more involved. Hackett returned from a knee injury Thursday just as coaches were making a concerted effort to mix Warrick into the rotation. Hackett's return could add some needed speed to the position, although he probably won't be ready to return this week.
WR Darrell Jackson and WR Bobby Engram remain the starters. WR Joe Jurevicius is still in the No. 3 role. WR Alex Bannister dropped a pass while serving in the No. 4 role last week. His playing time will diminish even if Hackett doesn't return this week. Warrick, signed to a one-year deal in late August, will get some chances now that he has had two full weeks to become acquainted with the offense. Holmgren informed WR coach Nolan Cromwell that now is the time to get Warrick more involved. "We're going to fast-forward that thing this week," Holmgren said. "We'll try and get him on the field a little bit Sunday." Warrick caught 79 passes in 2003 before a knee injury sidelined him for all but four games last season. The injury and a bloated salary led to Cincinnati's decision to release Warrick during training camp. The Seahawks paid Warrick a $500,000 bonus as part of his one-year contract, enough money to expect some production. Hackett was a fifth-round draft choice from Colorado in 2004. He spent much of last season on injured reserve with a hip injury.
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