FLOWERY BRANCH — Having showered and dressed after practice, Michael Turner is heading for a weekend off Friday when Roddy White nails his Atlanta Falcons teammate with a cupcake to the side of the face.
"Man, I almost made it, too," Turner said, breaking into his distinctive, squeaky laugh as he goes in search of a towel to clean himself up.
Turner sure didn't seem bothered by his teammate's prank, which pretty well sums up the attitude he's taking toward a pair of fumbles in the last two games of the regular season.
"I've fumbled before," he said. "Some people act like the whole world's coming down. No, it's not like that. It wasn't my first fumble. It probably won't be my last. Hopefully, it won't happen again anytime soon."
The Falcons certainly share that sentiment, since their next game comes in the second round of the playoffs.
Atlanta, which has a bye this weekend and home-field advantage in the NFC, will be counting heavily on its battering ram of a Pro Bowl running back to help control the clock and open up things in the passing game for Matt Ryan and his favorite receivers, White and tight end Tony Gonzalez.
Coach Mike Smith also expects Turner to hang on to the ball, something he did every time he got it through the first 14 games of the season. Then — boom! One fumble, and another, both in the red zone with the Falcons in position to score.
The first came on a second-and-goal play at the 1 against New Orleans, a mistake that looked especially glaring when the Saints rallied for a 17-14 victory. Last week, Turner coughed it up again at the 13 against Carolina, but the Falcons had no trouble overcoming the mistake in a 31-10 rout of the hapless Panthers.
The margin for error will be much slimmer in the playoffs.
"The emphasis on ball security is something we always talk about," Smith said. "Michael had gone a long time without putting the ball on the ground. We've just got to make sure we continue to drill our guys in the fundamentals of the game of football. At this point in time, the emotion and energy and attitude is all going to be there. The teams that go out there and execute the fundamentals of the game the best, those are the teams that are going to move on to the next round."
The Falcons have been fundamentally sound all season — especially Turner. Over the first 14 games, he carried the ball exactly 300 times without fumbling once. Overall, Atlanta has a plus-14 turnover margin, which leads the NFC and trails only AFC powers New England and Pittsburgh.
Turner is also a major reason the Falcons have averaged nearly 33 minutes in time of possession, another key part of their offensive strategy. He usually gets around 20 handoffs a game, putting up the league's third-highest rushing total (1,371 yards) and earning his second Pro Bowl appearance.
No wonder his teammates don't sound too concerned.
"It's part of football," White said. "He rarely fumbles the ball. It's not like it's been a problem throughout his career or anything like that. We'll just let him do what he does, which is run the ball well. We need that guy to be successful in the playoffs. We've got to let him do his thing."
Turner isn't doing anything different in practice, and he insists the turnovers aren't weighing on him mentally.
Defenders "are going to make plays on the ball. They get paid, too," he said. "It had been so long since the last one, so many carries. It's going to happen. It's part of football. It's just one of those things. It's not an issue."