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Roddy White: Raheem Morris' Bragging Putting Bucs in 'Big Hole'

Nov 3, 2010 – 8:00 PM
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Chris Harry

Chris Harry %BloggerTitle%

Roddy WhiteTAMPA, Fla. -- Best team in the NFC, eh?

That's what Raheem Morris has said -- more than once -- about his Tampa Bay Buccaneers, whose 5-2 record matches the top mark in the conference alongside two other teams. One is the New York Giants. The other is the Atlanta Falcons, who welcome their NFC South rival to the Georgia Dome this weekend.

The best receiver in the NFL will be waiting.

"Their coach is digging them a big hole, saying that stuff, man," Falcons wideout Roddy White told FanHouse. "Best team in NFC? C'mon. They lost to New Orleans -- bad. And they still have to play us. It looks like they got a pretty good quarterback down there, but he ain't no Matt Ryan. The defense is creating turnovers and all that. That's cool. But we feel as though we're going to be ready and prepared."

And then what?

"We're going to go out and try to make a statement about the best team in the NFC."

Few have paid much attention to the statements the Falcons have made to date, but perhaps a win over an up-and-coming opponent -- albeit a 8 1/2-point underdog -- will make more take notice of what's going on in the ATL.

Assuming the Falcons' sixth-ranked offense and Ryan-led aerial assault can do some damage against a Bucs defense that boasts a league-high 14 interceptions, then maybe White's name will move closer to being among the first mentioned in conversations about the most dangerous receivers in football.

Such discussions are normally reserved for Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson, Calvin Johnson and maybe Miles Austin. But a check of the NFL stats show that White, the sixth-year pro, leads the league with 54 receptions through Week 8, ranks second in yards with 747 yards and has scored five touchdowns. The former first-round pick from Alabama-Birmingham is on pace to shatter his career best of 88 catches as well as card a fourth straight 1,000-yard season.

"We like flying under the radar. We'll stay there all the way to playoffs."
-- Roddy White
White's last game was an 11-catch, 201-yard, 2-TD gem against Cincinnati, a performance that easily outclassed the Bengals louder wideout tandem of Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens, and earned White NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors.

"Those guys are still good players," White said from his home near the team's training complex Tuesday. "But I wanted to go out, compete and show them and everybody that this is my time now."

The league office took notice.

At White's current clip, more will fall in line.

"I think it's out there that he's one of the premier guys in the league," said Ryan, the Falcons' franchise quarterback who quickly found a friend (and target) in White upon arriving in Flowery Branch as the No. 3 overall draft pick in 2008. "We're certainly glad to have him."

The Falcons, on the whole, are fine being among the overlooked, too, because they believe they're on the way to being where they want to be in January.

"We like flying under the radar," White said. "We'll stay there all the way to playoffs."

Two years ago, the Falcons stunned the NFC by fixing one of the worst messes in NFL history virtually overnight -- what Michael Vick's scandal and coach Bobby Petrino's gutless abandonment of the team did was unparalleled and unconscionable -- by turning a 4-12 disaster into an 11-5 wild-card squad behind rookie coach Mike Smith and his rookie quarterback, Ryan. Last season, the Falcons fell short of returning to the playoffs, but by going 9-7, achieved consecutive winning records for the first time in franchise history.

White, who turned 29 Tuesday, has been the go-to guy for the fast-tracking Ryan, but White's path to stardom actually began during the miserable '07 campaign -- and had nothing to do with a quarterback.

"It was when Joe got here," he said.

That would be Joe Horn, who ended his 13-year career with a one-season stop in Atlanta. Going into that season, White had been an underachieving first-round draft pick with a combined 59 catches and three TDs his first two seasons. He was fighting off the dreaded "bust" label.

"When I first got into the league, I kind of had my priorities mixed up. I wanted to do other things and wasn't taking football as seriously as I should have," White said. "Nowadays, they'll cut first-rounders after a couple years, but I guess they kept me around because of my potential."

Horn saw that potential and taught White how to get the most of it. Not only how to play, but also to prepare, train and take care of the body. Oh yes, and how to take a little bit of attitude and swagger on the field.

The Falcons were terrible in '07, but White finished with 83 catches for 1,202 yards and six touchdowns.

The next year, Smith was hired, Ryan was drafted and Terry Robiske, one of the most respected receivers coaches in the NFL, was brought in to tutor Atlanta's wideouts. In two years working alongside Robiske, White has been selected to two Pro Bowls. This past offseason, he remained in Flowery Branch, Ga. all spring and trained with the team's athletic performance department, setting the table for his biggest year to date.

"It's been fun to watch," Smith said of White's development. "When you're hear in the building (during the offseason), you get an opportunity not only to work on yourself physically, but mentally you get a chance to work with our quarterback. That's helped a lot."

Ryan, the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year in '08, is having another solid season, completing 62 percent of his passes for 1,714 yards, 12 touchdowns, five interceptions and a 89.5 rating. Hidden in those numbers is a chemistry that's developed with White over their three seasons together, plus this past offseason.

"There's a real comfort between the two of us," Ryan said. "I understand what he's thinking and he understands what I'm thinking. I trust that he's going to make plays when you throw it in his direction."

That's good, because Sunday the tandem will take aim at the two of best ball-hawking cornerbacks in the NFL: 14-year veteran Ronde Barber and third-year pro Aqib Talib, who ranks second in the league with five interceptions.

White may have been the conference's offensive player of the week two weeks ago, but while he and the Falcons enjoyed a bye last Sunday, Talib was returning an interception for a touchdown and making a game-saving red-zone pick in the final two minutes at Arizona, as the game Bucs improved to 3-0 on the road.

Tampa Bay, this week, is a hot topic around the league. Have you heard the Bucs share the best record in the NFC? That makes them the best team in the NFC, according to at least one person.

The Falcons will be the other 5-2 team Sunday at the dome and looking -- like their star pass-catcher -- for a little more respect.

To be the best, you got to beat the best, right?

"That's right," White said. "I take that chip on my shoulder with me on the field and it keeps me ambitious, week in and week out."

He laughed.

"And then I go out there and I kill people."
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