Sun, Nov 21, 2004 - Page 24 News List

Falcons learn how to toughen up

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , FLOWERY BRANCH, GEORGIA

Falcons running back T.J. Duckett breaks into the open on a 21-yard touchdown run against the Broncos during the second quarter in Denver, on Oct. 31.

PHOTO: AP

With his team down by 35-3 at halftime to the Kansas City Chiefs on Oct. 24, Atlanta Falcons coach Jim Mora turned stubborn. In the locker room, he told his team, "We're not punting in the second half, and we're not kicking field goals, no matter what."

True to his word, Mora passed up two chances at field goals only to watch both of the Falcons' fourth-down plays fail. They eventually lost the game, 56-10.

Mora told the team the next day that he could have managed the score better and made the loss respectable. But he also said that the Falcons needed to develop a culture that did not accept losing without an all-out fight.

It is that direct, unswerving approach that has helped Mora, in his first season, lead the Falcons to the second-best record in the National Football Conference, behind only the Philadelphia Eagles. The Falcons (7-2) play the Giants (5-4) on Sunday at the Meadowlands.

"I just do what I do, it's who I am, and I detest phonies," said Mora, who replaced Dan Reeves as coach on Jan. 9. "People ask me what my philosophy is and I say, `I don't know.' Football is what I've done all my life, I just go with it."

Mora, who turned 43 this week, goes with it at a downhill pace. Even before the first practice at training camp, players knew Mora's mantra.

"Create a tempo other teams are unwilling or unable to match," defensive end Brady Smith said.

It is a brisk tempo set by Mora, a coach who is an admitted taskmaster. Yet Mora also has an exuberant and playful side.

After a season-opening victory in San Francisco, Mora walked to the back of the plane and asked defensive end Patrick Kerney not for an assessment of the game, but for an assessment of what was on Kerney's iPod.

"Sinatra to Tupac," Kerney said.

"Me, too," Mora said.

Place-kicker Jay Feely said that during training camp he fiddled with the throttle on one of the golf carts used by the players to make his drive faster. Mora saw Feely scooting down the street and confronted him.

"He asked me if I wanted to race," Feely said.

And Mora admitted that two days before the Falcons were to play Tampa Bay in the Georgia Dome, on Nov. 14, he put a playlist together -- a pregame music playlist.

"Mike Vick came to me and said we needed better music before the game," Mora said with a grin. "I agreed and was helping a little with my own list."

Feely said the Falcons have rallied around Mora.

"When you get labeled as a players' coach, people sometimes think there is no discipline," Mora said. "But they know who is in charge and they don't test it.

New England Patriots (8-1) at

Kansas City Chiefs (3-6)

This is a matchup of two potent offenses, one headed for playoff glory and one that should be but isn't.

As always, the Patriots are a team with answers, often before anyone has asked a question. Other teams suffer big injuries and are wiped out. The Patriots suffer injuries -- at the moment their three best cornerbacks are down -- and coach Bill Belichick comes up with scary answers. How else do you explain wideout Troy Brown, doubling as an emergency cornerback, making a crucial interception against Buffalo last week?

The Patriots' offense, like the defense, finds ways to escape problems. Corey Dillon's rushing (151 yards) and Tom Brady's passing did in Buffalo's good defense last Sunday.

The Chiefs can be frightening on offense. They lead the NFL in total offense (422.1 yards a game) and rushing (164.2). With Priest Holmes sidelined last week, his backup, Derrick Blaylock, rushed for 186 yards, the Chiefs gained 497 yards in all and they still lost to New Orleans.

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