Falcons vs. Panthers notebook

Falcons vs. Panthers notebook

ATLANTA - After Justin Griffith started the last 29 games at fullback, the Atlanta Falcons prepared for Stanley Pritchett to take his place Saturday night against the Carolina Panthers.

Pritchett couldn't do much, however, after spraining his right thumb, and the Falcons turned to Fred McCrary, a journeyman backup whom they signed to take Griffith's spot on the roster earlier this week.

Griffith broke his right ankle in last week's win over Oakland and will miss the rest of the season.

McCrary played parts of seven years with four teams, most recently the New England Patriots last year, before signing with Atlanta. He certainly didn't look too rusty against Carolina, clearing room for Warrick Dunn to run 19 times for 114 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown that gave the Falcons a 17-10 lead midway through the third quarter.

With T.J. Duckett watching the game from the sideline following arthroscopic knee surgery earlier this week, rookie Jason Wright, an undrafted free agent from Northwestern, gave Atlanta some valuable minutes.

The Falcons signed Wright off the practice squad on Tuesday, the same day McCrary joined the team. Wright carried once in the first half for no gain.

BIG-TIME GAINS: Allen Rossum's 34-yard punt return set up the Falcons' second touchdown of the third quarter and put him over 1,000 for the season to break Billy "White Shoes" Johnson's career franchise record of 1,251 yards.

Rossum, who needed 17 yards to break the record, joined the team in 2002. Johnson played from 1982-87 in Atlanta.

NO PLACE LIKE HOME? Jay Feely had a great start to the season as he converted his first 10 field-goal attempts, including six straight at home.

Problems resurfaced, however, since Feely hit a 43-yarder late in the second quarter of Atlanta's win at Denver seven weeks ago. Hooking a 45-yarder left of the uprights with 4:20 remaining in the second quarter against Carolina gave Feely a miss in four of his last seven attempts.

The Panthers held the ball for the next 3:59 before John Kasay's 21-yard field goal forced a 10-10 tie at halftime.

Feely, who gave the Falcons a 10-0 lead with a 37-yarder early in the second quarter, entered the third period just 51-for-69 in career games at the Georgia Dome.

ROOKIE MISTAKE: Carolina rookie cornerback Chris Gamble, who recorded his fourth interception in last week's 20-7 win over St. Louis before leaving with strained groin, looked confused as he tried to defend Brian Finneran on the receiver's 3-yard touchdown catch midway through the first quarter.

Gamble, a first-round pick from Ohio State, gave Finneran too much root to reach up and grab the pass Michael Vick lofted toward the left side of the end zone. Had Gamble turned for a split second to look at Vick, he likely could've intercepted the pass.

RED-HOT RECEIVER: Muhsin Muhammad continued his torrid streak for the Panthers, catching all eight passes that Jake Delhomme threw his way in the first half for 93 yards and a touchdown.

Beginning with a Week 9 loss to Oakland, Muhammad had 46 receptions for 757 yards and eight TDs in the last seven games.

COLD AS ICE: Peerless Price's poor season took another bad turn when he jumped to catch a third-down pass over the middle before dropping the ball on the Falcons' opening drive.

The Dome crowd booed him lustily as he jogged off the field. Price, acqired for a first-round draft pick in 2003 and given a $10 million signing bonus as a part of a six-year contract, entered the game with only 31 receptions, his lowest total since his rookie year of 1999, for 476 yards.

NICE STOPS: Falcons rookie cornerback DeAngelo Hall, the No. 8 overall pick, broke up Jake Delhomme's 20-yard pass over the middle to tight end Kris Mangum with 1:01 remaining in the second quarter.

Strong safety Bryan Scott successfully defended Julius Peppers in the end zone three plays later. Peppers, a star defensive end and the No. 2 overall draft choice of 2002, lined up on offense for the third game this season, but he had not caught a pass. Delhomme made a nice throw to the left side, and Peppers made the catch, only to realize he was out of bounds.

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