Falcons' Dunn still in running

Teaming with Vick in No. 1 rushing attack, veteran still loves what he does

November 17, 2006|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN REPORTER

Warrick Dunn has heard the question before.

Ever since New York Giants running back Tiki Barber announced his plan to retire from football after this - his 10th - NFL season, Dunn, the Atlanta Falcons running back who was drafted one round ahead of Barber in 1997, has been inundated with queries about his longevity.

Dunn, whose Falcons (5-4) will take on the Ravens (7-2) on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, isn't as definitive as Barber, but he does have a timetable.

"I don't want to play for another five years, let's just say that," Dunn said Wednesday during a conference call with the media that cover the Ravens. "I guess for me, when my love for the game is done, then I'm done, and I don't think I'm going to announce anything. I think I'll just walk away."

Until then, Dunn will continue to drive an Atlanta rushing offense that is tops in the NFL and has held that same position the past two seasons.

Led by Dunn and quarterback Michael Vick, the Falcons averaged 167 and 159.1 yards in 2004 and 2005, respectively.

And despite losses to the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns in its past two games, Atlanta leads the league in rushing, averaging 198.9 yards per contest. (By comparison, the San Diego Chargers are second with 155.7.)

The diminutive Dunn, at 5 feet 9 and 180 pounds, has been a key cog in the offense's effort, gaining at least 1,100 yards and averaging at least 4.2 yards per carry in each of the past two seasons.

"If you can make it in this league for 10 years playing running back, I don't care who it is, you've done something," said Dunn, who ranks eighth in the NFL in rushing with 761 yards and has scored three touchdowns. "You were a good football player. Not a lot of guys can stay around as long as I have, so I'm blessed."

Dunn has also benefited from playing alongside a mobile quarterback like Vick, who has run for 650 yards and is on pace to break the NFL record for most rushing yards in a season by a quarterback, currently held by former Chicago Bear Bobby Douglass (968 yards in 1972).

"There are mobile quarterbacks, and then there's Michael Vick," Ravens coach Brian Billick said earlier this week. "I equate it [to] when I was in Minnesota all those years, and we played Barry Sanders. You can't simulate [that]. ... You just can't simulate it in practice."

However, Atlanta has not fared well this season when Vick has gained more yards on the ground than Dunn. Vick has finished with more yards rushing than Dunn in four games, and the Falcons have lost three of them.

Still, when Atlanta has accumulated at least 150 yards on the ground, the team has a 4-2 record.

It would seem to benefit Atlanta to follow a similar script against the Ravens, who last week allowed the Tennessee Titans' Travis Henry to become the first running back to break the 100-yard mark against them this season.

But Falcons coach Jim Mora Jr. wouldn't commit himself to such a strategy and went so far as to say that the presence of Jarret Johnson playing middle linebacker instead of seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis wouldn't dictate such a plan either.

"He's a great player, but they've got a lot of other good players as well," Mora said of Lewis, who is questionable with a bruised back. "They're going to play well regardless. I expect to see him, though."

Whether or not Lewis will suit up Sunday, the Ravens' defense, which is ranked second against the run (79.7 yards), said it will emphasize the unit's No. 1 tenet.

"I think every week, you have to come in and stop the run," linebacker Adalius Thomas said. "I don't think that will ever change, but this week is even more of that."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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