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Falcons top Pats on late field goal

The Atlanta Falcons have been looking far and wide for a young kicker who won't count too much against the salary cap. They may have found him -- and he's already on the payroll.

ATLANTA (Aug. 11, 2006) -- The Atlanta Falcons have been looking far and wide for a young kicker who won't count too much against the salary cap.

They may have found him -- and he's already on the payroll.

Michael Koenen, who handled the punting and kickoff duties as a rookie last season, appears ready to take on another job after booting four long field goals, including a 40-yarder as time ran out for a 26-23 preseason victory over the New England Patriots.

Coach Jim Mora said he doesn't want to overwork Koenen, but he had to be impressed with the youngster's performance. The Falcons already dumped two kickers over the summer and two more in training camp, leaving Koenen and Tony Yelk.

Yelk booted an extra point and handled three kickoffs, but Koenen did the rest. He also kicked field goals of 44, 45 and 50 yards, averaged 44 yards on four punts and kicked off three times.

"I have reservations about it," Mora said. "I can't say he won the job. I liked what I saw tonight, but I'm concerned about having a guy do all three jobs. I'll take another week or so to see how he is, see how he feels. The last thing I want to do is wear him out. But with his ability to affect the game, like he did tonight, it's something we have to think long and hard about."

If Koenen is able to handle triple-duty this season, it would give the Falcons an extra roster spot and free up more cap room to bring in a player who can bulk up the interior of the defensive line. Chad Lavalais, last year's starter at nose tackle, has fallen out of favor and played sparingly in the preseason opener.

"I've got to take care of my body," Koenen said. "I'm just as worried about it as they are. But if it happens, awesome."

Rookie quarterback D.J. Shockley, who grew up in suburban Atlanta and played for the Georgia Bulldogs, thrilled the home fans with an impressive debut in the fourth quarter.

Cheered on with barks from fans who remember him leading Georgia to the Southeastern Conference title last season, Shockley guided the Falcons on a 14-play, 56-yard drive in the final 2:06. The biggest play was a 14-yard pass to Kevin Youngblood, who made a leaping catch over the middle. After a spike and a short run, Koenen trotted on the field and kicked the winning field goal.

Shockley completed 4 of 10 passes for 40 yards, his percentage hurt by a couple of clock-stopping spikes on the final drive. He also ran twice for 12 yards.

"I wondered if I would be nervous," Shockley said. "I was pleased."

Another Falcons rookie got off to a rousing start. Third-round pick Jerious Norwood turned two short passes into long gains, fitting right in with a team that already has Warrick Dunn and T.J. Duckett.

Norwood rambled 37 yards down the right sideline after hauling in a pass from No. 2 quarterback Matt Schaub. Then, with the third quarter winding down, he grabbed a pass from Bryan Randall and went 34 yards for a touchdown, making a great move to lose one defender and then turning on the speed.

"Whatever it takes," Norwood said. "If I have to run over somebody, I'll do that. If I have to juke somebody, I'll do that."

Michael Vick and Tom Brady played to a draw.

Vick, who broke his leg in a 2003 preseason game, ran only one series for the Falcons. He completed 3 of 4 passes for 26 yards and broke off a 16-yard run that put Atlanta in position for Koenen's first field goal.

Brady also played one series, completing three straight passes for 24 yards before an incompletion at the Atlanta 7. The Patriots got the first of three field goals. Martin Gramatica, seeking to replace Adam Vinatieri, made kicks of 26 and 30 yards. The other candidate, Stephen Gostkowski, made a 34-yarder.

Matt Cassel went the rest of the way at quarterback for New England, trying to show he's ready to be Brady's backup. Cassel was the Patriots' third-stringer last season and he barely played at Southern California, where he was stuck behind Heisman Trophy winners Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart.

Cassel was stripped of the ball on his first possession, but also threw a 57-yard touchdown pass to Patrick Cobbs.

In the fourth quarter, Cassel directed drives of 80 and 77 yards that helped the Patriots overcome a 10-point deficit. He finished 13 of 26 for 229 yards.

"I need to play a lot better," Cassel said. "I left a lot of throws out there."

Notes: The Patriots didn't have many of their biggest stars. LB Tedy Bruschi is expected to miss the entire preseason and maybe longer after undergoing wrist surgery. DL Richard Seymour, S Rodney Harrison and TE Daniel Graham are nursing injuries. WR Deion Branch is holding out for a new contract. ... Atlanta LB Keith Brooking went out in the first quarter with a sprained right ankle. He didn't return.

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