Falcons, NFL teams are gambling on fourth down

Instead of punting for field position or kicking long field goals, teams are attempting to pickup first downs and continue vital drives.

New England converted on two key third-quarter fourth downs to spoil the Falcons' upset bid.

Jacksonville went for a key fourth down to keep a touchdown-winning drive alive against Houston.

Cincinnati converted three fourth downs -- including two key ones in the game-winning drive -- against Pittsburgh.

"It's a risk, reward," said Falcons coach Mike Smith, who has gone for it and converted on three fourth downs this season. "It depends on where, when and how you feel. If you feel like you've got a play that you held back, that you think is going to work, then you pull it out."

Jacksonville and Cincinnati's gambles were in the fourth quarter with the game in the balance.

The Jaguars were tied with the Texans and could have kicked a field goal to take a lead.

The Bengals had to pick up a fourth-and-10 with 36 seconds left to stay alive.

"If it's a situation late in the game and you feel like you have to go for it, to keep yourself in the game, then you go for it," Smith said. "It really depends on the flow of the game and how you feel. How confident you are with your offense."

Smith had a shot to go for a fourth down in the third quarter against the Patriots. Trailing 16-10 and facing a fourth-and-5 at New England's 38, the Falcons punted and went for the field position.

In perhaps the boldest call of the week, New England went for it on a fourth-and-1 from their own 24 and converted. Later in the same drive, they converted a fourth-and-3 from Atlanta's 37 when Randy Moss caught a 21-yard pass.

"I have seen more teams going for it than in the past," running back Michael Turner said. "I would suspect that the numbers are up. You've got to take some chances sometimes. If you've got fourth-and-1, you have to feel like you can get one yard or two yards."

Sometimes, the move catches a team off guard.

"It's surprising me," fullback Ovie Mughelli said. "I have not seen this many fourth-down attempts as we have over the last couple of years. Coaches usually play it safe and go for the field goal. Not only with us, but with the Patriots, I was surprised when they went for it a couple of times."

Atlanta, Miami (4-for-4), Detroit (4-for-4), the New York Jets (2-for-2), Baltimore (2-for-2) and San Francisco (1-for-1) are perfect so far this season when they go for it on fourth down.

It's also a sign of desperation for some teams. Tampa Bay (0-3) has made five of eight fourth-down conversions. Kansas City (0-3) has made five of seven.

"It's all about timing," Turner said. "All kinds of situations go into that. You can't expect to be on the field for all four downs. The offense is trying to get first downs even before fourth down comes up."

Against Carolina, the Falcons converted two fourth downs on quarterback sneaks by Matt Ryan. The second one helped keep a touchdown drive alive as they took a 28-10 fourth-quarter lead.

"You're excited as a quarterback," Ryan said. "You want to keep that drive going. I think Smitty has done a great job here of having a feel for when it's a good time to do it. As an offense you have to respect his decision, and I think he does a great job with it."

There is a down side to the gambles.

"It can backfire as well," Mughelli said. "It can really take the wind out of your sails. It could take the momentum away from you. It's a risk, but I see a lot more coaches taking that risk."

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