0

Falcons' Roddy White having his best season yet

Photo by Daniel Kay

Photo by Daniel Kay

ATLANTA -- Roddy White is one of the biggest cutups in the Atlanta Falcons locker room.

He has this infectious, high-pitched laugh that gets quite a workout, whether he's cracking a joke or playing along with a teammate. He'll say pretty much whatever comes to his mind and if someone is offended, well, so be it. On the rare occasion that someone ticks him off, chances are he won't stay mad for long.

Early on in his career, White's carefree attitude led some to wonder if he'd take full advantage of his talents.

Not anymore.

White made the Pro Bowl the past two years, and his numbers through the first seven games this season are better than any other receiver in the NFL: a league-leading 54 receptions for 747 yards.

"If you throw it his way," said Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez, "he will usually come down with it."

Atlanta (5-2) heads into a bye week leading the NFC South, in large part because of No. 84. Just look at what he did in Sunday's 39-32 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals -- 11 catches for 201 yards and two touchdowns, plus a brilliant leaping grab on a 2-point conversion.

Of course, that might have been only his third- or fourth-best catch on the day. There was a grab early on when he stumbled coming across the middle but still made the catch on his knees. And his juggling, 43-yard touchdown catch surely made all the highlight shows.

But his best play of all was sticking out his right hand to haul in a 23-yard throw from Matt Ryan, all while using his left hand to fend off Bengals cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones.

"That was a first," White said, breaking into that grin of his.

Making his performance even more satisfying, he put up those huge numbers while playing a team that features two of the league's most prominent receivers, Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens. Both had big games themselves, but White surpassed their combined yards (Ocho had 108, T.O. accounted for 88) all by himself.

"I've always said that he's one of the best players in the league," Ryan said. "He certainly proved that."

Not even a major blunder could ruin White's day.

After he caught a short pass near the end of the third quarter, Jones came up and yanked the ball away just before White's knee touched the turf. Jones picked up the fumble and took off in the other direction for a 59-yard touchdown that gave the Bengals a stunning 25-24 lead, after they trailed 24-3 at halftime.

"I was feeling kind of down after that fumble," White said. "I just wanted to get back out there and make some plays to help our team win."

That he did.

On Atlanta's next possession, White pulled down a 13-yard pass early in the drive, then finished it off with an 11-yard touchdown catch that put the Falcons back in front, this time for good.

"It talks about his resiliency and his ability to overcome an adverse situation," coach Mike Smith said. "It was a very good play by their defensive back to strip the ball. You give them the credit. (White) was able to put that one behind him. That's one thing, when you're a receiver or a quarterback or a player that's out front all the time, you've got to be able to put those good plays and bad plays behind you and move on to the next one."

Ryan never had any hesitation about going back to his favorite receiver.

"Everybody is going to make a mistake here and there," the quarterback said. "His confidence never wavers. At no point would I ever think that his confidence was shaken. He went right back out there and made a number of plays for us and really had a great day."

White, who turns 29 next week, was a bit of a late bloomer. A late first-round pick out of UAB in 2005, he didn't make much of an impact his first two years in an offense that relied heavily on the running of quarterback Michael Vick.

With some beginning to question whether the Falcons made the right pick, White suddenly found his groove in 2007 -- even while working with three different starting quarterbacks after Vick's dogfighting crimes derailed his career. He became the first Falcons receiver since 1999 to eclipse 1,000 yards receiving.

After Ryan's arrival in 2008, White made the Pro Bowl for the first time (88 catches, a career-best 1,382 yards) as the Falcons earned a surprising playoff berth. After holding out at the start of training camp the following year for a new contract, he received a six-year, $48 million deal that made him one of the league's highest-paid receivers.

It was money well spent.

White made his second straight Pro Bowl with 85 catches for 1,153 yards and a career-best 11 TDs, and now he's heading for his best season yet.

It's probably a bit farfetched to expect him to keep up this pace, which figures out to 123 catches for 1,707 yards over a full season. Then again, he's in an offense that features plenty of other weapons for Ryan to go to, including Gonzalez and running back Michael Turner.

White is more concerned about the bottom line.

"We are kind of disappointed sitting here at 5-2," he said. "No one is satisfied in this locker room. We think we could be a little bit better."

That sure sounds like a guy who takes his work seriously.