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Falcons Enjoy the Element of Surprise

September 11, 2006|From the Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Warrick Dunn figured Atlanta's dominating performance over Super Bowl favorite Carolina would come as a surprise.

"Most people didn't think we could do that," said Dunn after he rushed for 132 yards in the Falcons' 20-6 win over the Panthers. "We've added some guys who have been to the Pro Bowl. There's an emphasis to get to the next level."

One of those newcomers, John Abraham, had two sacks and two forced fumbles, while Michael Vick threw two touchdown passes as the Falcons erased memories of their 44-11 loss to the Panthers.

The Falcons were accused of not giving a complete effort -- a theory Vick affirmed when he said in the off-season he didn't try his hardest in Atlanta's final regular-season game.

"You've barely heard about Atlanta all off-season, and I think that's good for us," Abraham said. "We were 8-8 last year, and a lot of guys had us in a slump."

In the off-season, the Falcons acquired Abraham from the New York Jets and signed Grady Jackson away from Green Bay. The revamped line dominated the Panthers, who were held to 215 yards as they played without All-Pro receiver Steve Smith, inactive because of a right hamstring injury.

"We've got three Pro Bowl pass rushers on this team. If we didn't come here and hit the quarterback a lot, I would have been surprised," said Abraham, who limped off the field late in the game because of a groin injury. He said the injury wasn't serious.

Atlanta also rolled on offense, finishing with 252 yards rushing.

Carolina, which had the third-rated defense a year ago, fell flat as it began a season amid high expectations.

"What did we give up in the running game? That was ridiculous," said defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, playing in his first game after knee surgery. "It wasn't the Super Bowl, but it was a division game and a conference game. They kicked our tails."

Vick, trying to silence critics after throwing 13 passes for interceptions last season, said: "I'm just comfortable with everything that we are doing with our scheme. I spent a lot of time this off-season working with our offense and just trying to put myself in a position where I can be effective with every snap."

The Panthers generated 89 yards offense in the first half -- fitting because they were missing No. 89, quarterback Jake Delhomme's primary target last season. Smith was the league's top receiver last season with 103 catches for 1,563 yards and 12 touchdowns.

"He's a big part of our offense, but still, that's not an excuse for this performance," Delhomme said.

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