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Monday Game Face


* contributing writer Daniel Cox takes a day-after look at the Falcons' 20-10 win over the Browns in which Atlanta came out of Cleveland with a victory, a reputation for being one of the teams to watch for this year in the NFL and a spot at the top of the NFC South standings. *

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. —Perhaps he was joking, but there may have been an ounce of truth to John Abraham telling Dave Archer on's First Take that he was glad he was not on the field when Sunday's — and perhaps the season's — most incredible play happened, a pick from defensive end .

Holding a slim 13-10 lead, Atlanta lined up on defense to stop the Cleveland Browns and quarterback Jake Delhomme from converting a third down on its own 48-yard line. The Browns had converted two already and Atlanta needed something big to happen.

The Falcons lined up in a four-man front and showed a blitz with a linebacker. At the snap, the slot cornerback, Chris Owens, blitzed and the left defensive end, Chauncey Davis, dropped back into coverage.

Dropping into coverage is something many pass-rushing defensive ends don't like to do or do well, but Abraham said following the 20-10 win that it's something he's been working on this season.

"Since Brian VanGorder is having me dropping, I'm trying to get better technique-wise," Abraham said. "Personally, I'm just trying to be a better dropper because you never know. I've got no picks in my career so I've got to get my first pick."

With the blitz coming, Delhomme hoped to dump a screen to the running back, who should have blocked Biermann. The third-year end shot toward the quarterback, read the play and timed his jump perfectly to knock the pass.

And then it got even more exciting. With the ball in the air, Biermann laid out for the interception, got up and rumbled his way to the end zone

"It worked out good," Biermann said. "The tackle blocked down, looked like they were going to throw a quick smoke screen. I just happened to bat the ball, looked up and it was there. I caught it, rolled up and took off. I wanted to score. I wanted to get it and I was fortunate enough to do that."

He got it and now he's got a leg up on his predecessor and pass-rushing mentor Abraham. Despite a commitment to improving his pass coverage, the 11th-year vet grinned when he said his protégé was the better man for that situation.

"I'm just glad Biermann was in and I wasn't," Abraham said. "Biermann's a little better athlete than I am. It was a great play and it helped solidify the game. Biermann's doing incredible things for us and he's growing as a player and as a person."

Behind Enemy Lines:Despite a 1-4 record, the Cleveland Browns and their fans have every reason to be proud, but pride can only get you so far and, right now, the Browns are slipping out of the playoff chase in the AFC.

Terry Pluto of Cleveland's *The Plain Dealer *shared his thoughts on Sunday's Falcons win and in sharing his frustrations with the home team, he may have given the Falcons Nation a reason for some pride of their own.

In three paragraphs, Pluto summed up how Atlanta shut down a running game that had looked impressive in recent weeks, gave Cleveland some serious concerns for their quarterback position and why one of their Pro Bowlers is making him nervous.

"The Browns had one first down rushing," Pluto wrote. "I repeat, *one *rushing first down. They managed a mere 48 rushing yards in 20 carries after running the ball into the teeth of strong defenses in Baltimore and at home against Cincinnati.

"So (Jerome) Harrison is in a funk. (Peyton) Hillis is aching. The quarterbacks are like tricycles with three flat tires.

Just as disturbing, Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas gave up the sack where (Seneca) Wallace was injured. He was thrown into Delhomme on another play — leading to an interception. Thomas had a horrible day at the worst possible time for the Browns."

From the FanCast: Based on what they'd seen Abraham do against Delhomme in previous seasons as the starting quarterback for the Carolina Panthers, fans in the gameday FanCast were clamoring for the quarterback to enter the game.

When Abraham knocked starting quarterback Wallace out of the game in the first half with a sack, the comments on Delhomme reached a feverish pitch.

"The way you guys describe JD (Delhomme), sounds like if Abe hits him hard enough, he might just turn to dust," one commenter wrote.

Atlanta's physical play was a significant part of Sunday's win and while they'd never admit it quite as forthright as the fans would, the Falcons were perhaps excited to see the less-mobile and slightly-injured Delhomme take over for Cleveland.

As the game went on, the pressure on Delhomme intensified and regardless of who was at quarterback, that was Atlanta's plan all along.

"I think we felt we could try to put pressure on the quarterback with our down four," head coach Mike Smith said. "That's first and foremost what you want to do. I thought as the game wore on we were able to do that. I thought John Abraham had a great job rushing the passer.

"It's not always about sacks, even though we had three sacks in this ballgame. We want the quarterback to know that we're around. I think they did a good job. We can be better at it. We are a group of guys who understand the rush game now, and we just have to continue to finish it."

Pivotal Play:Matt Ryan's go-ahead 45-yard yard touchdown to Roddy White certainly was crucial.

Biermann's unforgettable moment was critical in stopping a comeback.

But if you're looking for the play that absolutely shut the door on the Browns chances on Sunday, look no further than linebacker [Stephen Nicholasinternal-link-placeholder-0]' fourth-quarter interception.

Up 20-10, the Falcons allowed the Browns to get to Atlanta's 17 before Nicholas, playing for the injured Sean Weatherspoon, leaped to bring down Delhomme's short pass over the middle.

That play gave Atlanta back the ball and allowed them to run out the clock. It also showed the depth the Falcons front office has worked hard in the past two seasons to develop.

Statistically Speaking:It's probably not a surprise by now, but the Saints fell to the Arizona Cardinals 30-20 on Sunday afternoon.

The Falcons have a lot of admirable stats and standings in rankings, but the most important stat and standing of all is where they sit in the NFC South.

On top.

With their 4-1 record, they sit alone at the top of the NFC South standings, a game ahead of the 3-1 Tampa Bay Bucs, who were on a bye in Week 4.

Heading into Sunday's play, they were tied with the Saints, but held the edge because of the head-to-head tie breaker.

With the Chicago Bears' win Sunday, they are tied with Atlanta for the best record in the entire NFC.

That's A Wrap:This week's win wasn't quite the nail-biter the previous two were, but Atlanta still had to tough things out on the road.

The win gives Atlanta its first four-game win streak under Smith and marks the second 4-1 start in consecutive seasons.

Next week, the Falcons will stay on the road and travel to Philadelphia, always a tough environment and a tough, well-prepared opponent that beat Atlanta soundly last season at home.

The Eagles are 3-2 and present a similar two-headed quarterback situation that the Falcons prepared this past week.

Kevin Kolb and Michael Vick may both be available Sunday, after Kolb returned to the starting lineup in Week 4 once Vick suffered a rib injury.

Eagles head coach Andy Reid waited until Friday to rule out Vick for Sunday night's game.

No matter the quarterback, no matter the situation or down and distance, the Falcons through five games have now shown they're one of the best, well-coached and prepared teams in the entire NFL and look to make it five in a row in Week 6.

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