|Matthew Stockman / Getty Images|
|Falcons running back Michael Turner is one of the league's toughest players to take down.|
It wasn't that Smith doubted Elam's ability to hit a chip-shot field goal. After all, the Falcons were facing a fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line. But nursing a three-point lead after watching the Carolina Panthers turn a 17-0 deficit into a 24-21 Falcons advantage, Smith decided Atlanta could not settle for a field goal. Instead, he preferred to put the ball in the hands of running back Michael Turner, who had been having his way with Carolina's defense.
"That was a real easy decision," Smith said. "We felt like we'd be able to punch it in. I really felt we had no other choice but to do it. Three points for a field goal gives us a six-point lead. I felt like we needed to score a touchdown."
Turner rewarded his coach with a 1-yard touchdown run -- the third of a career-high four touchdowns in Atlanta's 45-28 win over division-leading Carolina at the Georgia Dome.
"It was just an attitude thing," said Turner. "Carolina had a little momentum. We had to try to counter that. It was an attitude thing. Go in there and punch it in and try to put them away."
Smith's call did more than give the Falcons a 10-point cushion against their division rival. It reinforced his faith in Turner, a former backup to LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego, whose emergence this season is just as much responsible for Atlanta's 7-4 record as the play of Rookie of the Year front-runner Matt Ryan.
"Coach put it in our hands to go ahead and get the job done," Turner said of Smith's call. "I figured it'd be a run play to me, you know, but it shows great confidence in our O-line and also in me to get the job done."
With 117 yards on Sunday, Turner increased his rushing total to 1,088, moving him into third behind Clinton Portis (1,206) and Adrian Peterson (1,180) and marking the first time Turner has gone over 1,000 yards in his five-year career.
With a league-leading 13 touchdowns to go with his yardage total, Turner is putting together a season worthy of Pro Bowl consideration.
"It would be an honor to be voted into the Pro Bowl," said Turner. "It wasn't one of my goals. My approach was to just go in and do my job and do it the best I can and let all the other stuff happen."
Following last weekend's performance, in which he tied T.J. Duckett for the Falcons franchise record for rushing touchdowns in a game, Turner now has four multiple-touchdown games and five 100-yard performances on his resume, including 220 yards and two touchdowns vs. Detroit in Week 1 and 104 yards and three touchdowns vs. Kansas City in Week 3.
Making Turner's list of accomplishments even more impressive is the fact that prior to this season -- his first in Atlanta -- Turner never totaled more than 502 yards or three touchdowns in a season. In fact, before this year, Turner had started just one game and that was back in his rookie season in 2004.
Yet, Turner has shown no signs of slowing down despite a league-leading 251 rushing attempts. Through 11 games, he's on pace to carry the ball over 365 times -- more carries than any running back recorded in 2007.
"He continues to run hard from the first quarter through the fourth quarter," said Ryan. "He's tough to bring down."
Ryan has a front-row seat to Turner's exploits, but don't just take his word for it. The 5-10, 244-pound Turner has recorded the most broken tackles (27) and yards after contact (563) in the league, proving harder to take down than the likes of Adrian Peterson, Marion Barber and Brandon Jacobs.
Next Sunday, Turner returns to San Diego, where, against his former team, he has a chance to pass former Falcons RB Jamal Anderson's franchise record of 14 touchdowns, set in 1998.
"When I was in San Diego the guys were always talking like, 'I can't wait till you go to another team and we play against you,' and things like that," said Turner. "It's just friendly trash talk, you know, it's going to be a fun game."