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San Diego --- A sign of a good team is being able to win when all cylinders are not firing.

The Falcons didn't bring anything close to their "A" game to the West Coast, but they made just enough timely plays to hold on for a 22-16 victory over San Diego on Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium.

"This is a resilient Football team," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "This is a group of men that enjoy being around each other. They fight hard every single day."

The Falcons (8-4) remain only one game behind NFC South leaders Tampa Bay (9-3) and Carolina (9-3). They and the Panthers hold the two wild-card playoff slots with four games remaining.

The defense, which has been yielding a lot of passing yards and couldn't hold a fourth-quarter lead against Denver, came through with clutch plays late.

The stage was set for San Diego to mount a victory drive with 2:46 to play. However, the Falcons defense came up three big stops to force a punt.

Cornerback Chris Houston chased LaDainian Tomlinson out of bounds for no gain on first down.

Jonathan Babineaux and John Abraham crashed the pocket to sack San Diego quarterback Philips Rivers for a 9-yard loss on second down.

Safety Erik Coleman broke up a pass intended for wide receiver Malcom Floyd on third down.

Running back Michael Turner then closed out a stellar game with a first down, and the Falcons ran out the clock.

"It was something that we needed to work on going into this game, finishing games and finishing critical situations like that," linebacker Michael Boley said.

Babineaux, who signed a contract extension on Tuesday, also had another sack and batted down a pass.

"I gave him a head fake outside, and I came back underneath him," Babineaux said of Chargers guard Mike Goff. "I thought LaDainian was going to chip me but he didn't.

"[John] Abraham had a piece of [Rivers], and I just finished him off."

Babineaux summed it up.

"Sacks kill drives," he said.

In addition to the key stop, the defense held Tomlinson, a two-time rushing champion, to 24 yards rushing on 14 carries, his second-lowest total over his career.

"I thought it was, beside our trip out to Oakland, it was our best defensive performance," Smith said.

Turner, returning to play against his former team, powered the offense with 120 yards rushing on 31 carries.

The Falcons did make miscues. Three turnovers resulted in all 16 Chargers points. Quarterback Matt Ryan missed an open receiver in the end zone. Harry Douglas muffed a punt. Brian Finneran's fumble was returned 86 yards for a touchdown. Turner even had a fourth-quarter fumble when the Falcons were trying to run out the clock.

"You've got to win the ugly ones sometimes," center Todd McClure said.

The Falcons held a 15-7 lead at halftime but could have built a larger lead if they hadn't gotten stuffed on four tries from the 1-yard late in the second quarter.

"That's part of the game," Ryan said. "You have to understand that there are going to be some ups and downs."

The Falcons got the ball to start the second half, but a promising drive was stopped when Finneran fumbled the ball while fighting for a first down. San Diego's Eric Weedle scooped up the fumble and returned it for a touchdown. The Chargers, two-point conversion attempt, a pass to Floyd, was incomplete to make it 15-13.

After an exchange of punts, the Falcons cobbled together an 11-play, 72-yard scoring drive. Douglas was found wide open in the left corner of the end zone on a third-and-goal from the 5. Elam's kick made it 22-13 with 14:56 left.

Defensive end Jamaal Anderson blocked a field goal attempt on San Diego's ensuing possession. The Falcons took over at their 25 with 11:33 left.

Turner's fumble with 9:05 left was recovered by San Diego's Quentin Jammer.

San Diego got a 28-yard field goal to make it 22-16 with 5:15 left.

The Falcons defense stood firm and closed the door.

"Our team has been growing every week," safety Lawyer Milloy said. "We showed our progression. It's been a steady progression even through some of our losses. We are team that is getting stronger as the season goes on."


A look at the playoff picture in the NFC with four games remaining:

Division leaders


Buccaneers ....9-3



Wild-card leaders

Panthers ......9-3


Top contenders


Redskins ......7-5


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: December 1, 2008

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Nick Hardwick Name: Nick Hardwick
Position: C
Age: 26
Experience: 5 years
College: Purdue
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