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A running crisis?

Falcons face painful pinch at tailback

    FLOWERY BRANCH — The Atlanta Falcons are tied for the NFC wild-card lead, but injuries to their top two tailbacks Sunday cast an unexpected pall over their playoff hopes.
    Warrick Dunn and Jerious Norwood were lost with calf and knee injuries, respectively, in Sunday’s 17-6 win at Tampa Bay. Coach Jim Mora provided no updates on either player’s status on Monday after saying Sunday the two would be listed as questionable.
    The Falcons survived against Tampa Bay by moving fullback Justin Griffith to running back. Griffith ran for 57 yards, including a 21-yard touchdown run.
    Can the Falcons expect Griffith, who had 12 carries Sunday, to handle many more carries as the lead back for a full game Saturday night against Dallas? Will quarterback Michael Vick again assume more responsibility as a runner and passer after having only three carries for five yards against Tampa Bay?
    Dunn has 997 yards rushing to lead the team. Norwood the rookie speed threat, has added 550 yards rushing while averaging 6.5 yards per carry. If either is ruled out of one or more games, the Falcons — who began looking for free agents Monday — will almost certainly sign a running back.
    It’s doubtful, however, that any free-agent signee could learn the Falcons’ system in time to earn substantial playing time.
    ‘‘That’s something we’re talking about internally, and until (Dunn and Norwood) are ruled out we’re just going to keep that to ourselves,’’ Mora said when asked Monday about his plans at running back.
    The Falcons (7-6) are tied with the New York Giants and Philadelphia for the wild-card lead, and they visit Philadelphia on Dec. 31.
    Griffith, a fourth-year starter from Mississippi State, had only six carries for 34 yards this season before Sunday.
    Griffith called his family after his first NFL rushing touchdown — the longest run of his career — and said even they were surprised by his production.
    ‘‘My dad claimed he didn’t know I had it in me,’’ Griffith said Monday.
    Part of Griffith’s success may have been tied to the Bucs’ defense focusing on Vick.
    ‘‘They were 100 percent committed to not letting Mike Vick run the football, and they did an excellent job of that,’’ Mora said.
    ‘‘They weren’t going to let Mike loose, that’s for sure.’’
    Vick has rushed for 934 yards, 35 away from Bobby Douglass’ 34-year-old record for most rushing yards by a quarterback in a season. He needs 66 to become the first quarterback to run for 1,000 in a season.
    Griffith said he will prepare to play fullback and tailback this week, though he said he expects Dunn and Norwood to return.
    ‘‘I’m anticipating that they’ll probably be ready to go Saturday night,’’ Griffith said. ‘‘Both of them are warriors.’’
    Dunn and Norwood were not available for interviews Monday. Mora may provide an update on the two Wednesday.
    It seems more likely Dunn could play this week. The team may be more reluctant to rush Norwood’s return from a knee injury.
    In recent weeks the Falcons have tried formations with Dunn and Norwood on the field at the same time. The speed backs provide more big-play potential than the possible starting combination of Griffith at running back and Fred McCrary — another 230-pounder from Mississippi State — at fullback.
    Then again, a power attack with Griffith and McCrary could be more effective in short-yardage and goal-line situations.
    ‘‘You’ve got two big backs back there now,’’ Griffith said. ‘‘I’m 230, he’s 237 or whatever, and we just like going in there and pounding that rock.’’
    The only other running back on the team’s active roster is fullback Corey McIntyre, who has not played since he signed with the Falcons on Nov. 24. The team has one tailback, rookie Taurean Henderson of Texas Tech, on its practice squad.

Lawsuit against Williams dropped

    NORFOLK, Va. — A Norfolk attorney who claimed he gave money to Atlanta Falcons cornerback Jimmy Williams while he was a player at Virginia Tech has dropped a lawsuit against the rookie.
    Carl La Mondue filed suit against Williams, a Hampton native, and his father last month, demanding they reimburse him about $55,000. La Mondue filed a notice in Norfolk Circuit Court on Thursday that he was withdrawing the suit, The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk reported on its Web site Monday.
    Online records show the lawsuit was dismissed on Thursday.
    Neither La Mondue nor Williams returned messages left for them Monday night.
    La Mondue did not explain in the filing why he was dropping the suit.

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