FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) - Atlanta Falcons running back Michael Turner has heard the critics say that he's too slow and too old to convert short-yardage downs.
He couldn't disagree more.
``Everybody's going to nitpick,'' Turner said on Thursday. ``We're a different team this year, obviously, with philosophies and things like that, but I mean we're 8-1. That's the bottom line. To get Ws. We're not worried about it.''
Coming off their first loss of the season, Turner and the Falcons were punchless in short-yardage situations last week at New Orleans.
The two-time Pro Bowl running back was held to his least productive day in five seasons with Atlanta, running 13 times for 15 yards.
But Turner said that the Falcons have done far more right offensively this season than they've done wrong.
Atlanta ranks fourth in passing and seventh in scoring, but just 26th in rushing. Turner insists that the Falcons only need to make a few corrections against Arizona (4-5) on Sunday to get the running game operating efficiently.
Last week was ugly. On eight plays, New Orleans stuffed Turner either for no gain or lost yardage. The worst came on third-and-goal at the 1 in the game's final 2 minutes.
The Falcons lined up in a seven-man front, sent tight end Michael Palmer in motion and had fullback Mike Cox ready to take on a defender to spring Turner.
Instead, a blocking breakdown by left tackle Sam Baker trigged a collapse that allowed three Saints to tackle Turner in the backfield. On the next snap, Matt Ryan's go-ahead touchdown pass to Roddy White was knocked down.
Turner gave the Saints credit instead of blaming his teammates.
``Sometimes defenses are going to have good schemes against us and be able to get good penetration and things like that,'' Turner said. ``It's just something we have to handle and run different types of plays sometimes and just clean it up.''
Still, the problems must be corrected quickly. The Falcons want to repair the blow to their collective ego from last season's 24-2 playoff loss at the New York Giants.
Three times they lined up to convert short-yardage plays against the eventual Super Bowl champions and three times they failed.
It wasn't the first game in which Atlanta and Turner had struggle struggles. In 40 attempts inside the opponents' 10-yard line last season, Turner averaged a paltry 1.1 yards. The year before, he had just 1.3 yards on 41 attempts.
``We don't take anything for granted,'' Turner said. ``You've got to expect things to get tougher as the years go on and especially if you're a good team, people are going to give you their best shot. So we have to be prepared for everybody's best shot.''
For this same problem to be cropping up again seems like a bad harbinger.
``It's inexcusable,'' tight end Tony Gonzalez said. ``We are too good to let that happen. We should be able to convert those downs especially with a guy like Michael Turner back there. We should be able to get that first down, and I think we will in the future. It's just all about execution, and guys all being on the same page.''
It didn't take long for offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter to see the problems on film.
On several short-yardage plays that failed, the Falcons either missed a blocking assignment, didn't account for an all-out blitz or had multiple issues in protection.
``Yeah, it's a bad thing,'' Koetter said. ``If you had a magic wand and could wave it, then it would be easy to fix everything if you had that magic wand. Again, that's one part of the game. We came up short in that part and eventually that added up to us coming up short on the scoreboard.''
Turner believes that the Falcons must stay persistent and not give up on themselves just because a few plays didn't go their way.
``Of course, of course, but it seems like everybody's finding what's wrong with us and finding reasons to doubt us more than just say things that we're doing good at,'' he said. ``But that's fine. Nobody's putting any more pressure on us than we're putting on ourselves. Our expectations are high, and we take pride in being great and doing the things we need to get better at. We can obviously see it, and we'll take care of it.''
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