Falcons overcome miscues to beat Miami

MIAMI - Whenever his team seemed on verge of ending any chance of a Miami comeback, Atlanta Falcons head coach Jim Mora would watch one of his players make a mistake Sunday afternoon.

Each time, the Falcons held firm.

"We had some things happen today that can cause road teams to spiral downward," Mora said. "We left at least 14 points on the field, but we were resilient enough to win."

Finally, in the last 2 1/2 minutes, Keion Carpenter and Warrick Dunn finished off the Dolphins with an interception and a third-down run for eight yards, respectively, to secure a 17-10 victory.

Quarterback Michael Vick, who produced 200 yards passing for the first time in 18 games, sizzled through the first quarter and into the second as he led the Falcons on a 71-yard opening drive that ended with Dunn's 1-yard touchdown run.

After completing his first seven passes and finishing 22 of 31 for 228 yards, one touchdown and a 102.6 quarterback rating, Vick testily suggested that his critics quiet down.

"The thing I want for everybody to do is praise me when things go right, and if I'm doing things wrong and not winning, then you can criticize me," Vick said. "But if I'm winning games, don't criticize me. That's all I'm saying."

The Falcons (6-2) have won three straight and five of their last six to remain in a first-place tie with Carolina in the NFC South. Equally impressive are Atlanta's three consecutive victories on the road.

Carpenter's first interception since Week 16 of 2003 ended the Dolphins' final offensive threat. With coordinator Ed Donatell calling for zone coverage that had him playing "underneath" crossing routes, Carpenter dove to catch Gus Frerotte's poorly thrown low pass to Chris Chambers.

First-year Miami coach Nick Saban indicated that Frerotte's first look was to Randy McMichael, but the former Georgia tight end was covered by right-side cornerback Jason Webster.

"I couldn't tell on the field if we were late throwing it or not," Saban said. "The first look is the flat, which is a safe throw."

Carpenter gave the offense possession at the Atlanta 6, but the Falcons just needed to convert one third down with Miami (3-5) having only two timeouts remaining. Dunn's play-action run around left end, in which he wisely fell before he reached the sideline to keep the clock running, essentially ended the game.

"If we play like this, the chances of beating us are slim," Dunn said after rushing for 88 yards on 25 carries and improving his season total to 820 yards. "We converted on third down in the passing game and also running the football."

Entering as the league's fourth-leading rusher, Dunn kept his spirits up after Keith Traylor and Zach Thomas stopped him for a 4-yard loss on fourth-and-one at the Miami 31 early in the final period.

Third-down conversions had a huge impact for both teams. The Falcons' offense went 11-for-17 and their defense 0-for-9. Dolphins rookie Ronnie Brown, the former star Auburn running back and this year's No. 2 overall draft choice kept his team's final possession alive after his 5-yard gain on fourth-and-one landed at the Atlanta 16.

Two plays later, Carpenter intercepted Frerotte.

"That was one of their bread-and-butter routes, and we were just fortunate to be in the right coverage in the right situation when it came down to that," Carpenter said. "I was the underneath zone defender. I didn't have any deep zone work today, so it would allow me to play aggressive on the underneath routes."

Mistakes were plentiful for a team coming off a bye week. Fullback Justin Griffith lost a fumble, the first of his three-year career, at the Miami 10 late in the first quarter. After catching a 3-yard pass in the left flats, rookie linebacker Channing Crowder crushed him to force the turnover that rookie cornerback Travis Daniels recovered.

Two possessions later, Ricky Williams ran for a 23-yard touchdown that tied the score at 7-7.

Brian Finneran was upset with himself after Vick slightly underthrew a 3-yard fade pass into the left corner of the end zone with 4:20 left in the third. At 6-foot-5 and four inches taller than Daniels, Finneran mistimed his jump, and the ball ricocheted off the cornerback's hands before it hit the receiver in the helmet and fell to the ground.

Instead of taking an 11-point lead on a 14-play drive that began at the Atlanta 6, Finneran had to watch as Todd Peterson's 21-yard field goal ended the scoring.

On the bright side, Finneran did a nice job of slipping past the coverage to emerge wide open for Vick to hit on an 11-yard touchdown pass late in the second. The seventh-year receiver also made other big plays and finished with game-highs of eight catches and 92 yards receiving.

"This team played us differently than the (New York) Jets," Finneran said of the Dolphins. "They bumped us a lot more, played a lot more bump-and-run. We were able to make some plays."

Worse yet was the sight of Allen Rossum losing a fumble on a punt return late in the second quarter that set up Olindo Mare's 28-yard field goal. A Pro Bowl selection last season who's had a dreadful start this season, Rossum fielded two of six punts for one-half yard.

Rossum credited Miami's Donnie Jones for putting a spin on his punts, many of which carried several yards deeper than they had on film. The fumble, recovered by Yeremiah Bell at the Atlanta 14, was exacerbated when Rossum accidentally kicked the ball toward midfield.

"It came to my right, and then at the very end, it went hard to my left," Rossum said in reference to Jones' spin. "I tried to let some of those go (for Miami to down). I was trying to play field position by just catching it."

Regardless of the miscues, the Falcons won again, and Vick has some ammunition to fire back at his detractors. He improved his career record to 31-15-1 and now has 15 wins when posting at rating of at least 70 in his last 17 starts.

Vick also connected with tight end Alge Crumpler six times for 65 yards and rookie Roddy White three times for 50.

"Just from here on out, man, I don't want to hear that question again _ if I can throw from the pocket, if I can make plays from the pocket because I feel like I answered them," Vick said. "So I don't ever want to hear that again."

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