(Eds: With AP Photos.)By PAUL NEWBERRYAP Sports Writer
Roddy White could’ve pouted, could’ve complained, could’ve stirred things up in the locker room.
He did none of that.
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White knew he was still the go-to receiver for the Atlanta Falcons, no matter who lined up on the other side.
”Roddy knows he’s a very good player,” said Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. ”He’s got a lot of confidence in himself. But he’s also one of the most unselfish guys on our team. It’s rare for one of your superstars to be like that in this day and age.”
Even though the Falcons (4-0) made a blockbuster deal during the 2011 draft to land Julio Jones – and there’s every indication that now, in his second season, he’s on his way to becoming one of the NFL’s top receivers – White continues to shine brighter than any of Ryan’s targets.
Since the start of the 2007 season, when White – at his mother’s urging – quit partying so much and dedicated himself to fulfilling his enormous potential, he’s had more catches (498) than anyone in the league other than New England’s Wes Welker (579). No one has more yards receiving during that span than White (6,835), according to STATS LLC.
At age 30, after five straight 1,000-yard seasons and well on his way to another, White still feels like there’s room to improve.
More important, he’s willing to share the ball with Jones, Hall of Famer-to-be tight end Tony Gonzalez and whoever else the Falcons want to get involved in the passing game.
”I expected a little bit of a change because we’ve got so many big players on our team,” White said. ”But I’m excited just to go out there and be consistent. I pride myself on going out there and being consistent week in and week out. That’s what I want to do. No matter what it takes to help this team to win, I want to continue to win.”
Going into Sunday’s game at Washington, the Falcons (4-0) have matched the best start in franchise history and built a commanding lead in the NFC South. They and the Houston Texans are the only unbeaten teams left in the league, and looking very much like a squad that can challenge for a Super Bowl championship.
White is sure doing his part. Again. He ranks fourth in the league in yards receiving (413) and is tied for fifth in catches (27).
But, according to Ryan, White’s value goes beyond the numbers.
”Physically, he’s got everything you want,” the quarterback said. ”He’s strong, he’s physical, he’s got great top end speed, he’s quick out of his cuts, he’s got very good hands. But I think his best attribute is he’s an incredible competitor. He wants nothing else but to play well and to win. You’d love to have tons of guys like that.”
In last week’s thrilling victory over Carolina, Ryan was especially impressed by White’s unselfishness on a screen pass to Michael Turner. The running back caught the ball about the line of scrimmage and zigzagged down the field on a 60-yard touchdown, getting a key block from White.
”Roddy is on the end of the run, diving out there, full extension, to try to hold up (Panthers cornerback) Captain Munnerlyn for an extra second,” Ryan said. ”And he did that.”
But White saved his biggest play for the end.
With the Falcons trailing 28-27 and backed up on their own 1-yard line with just over a minute remaining – and no timeouts – Ryan dropped into the back of the end zone and launched it about as far as he could, a towering throw that might’ve scraped the rafters of the Georgia Dome. White knew it was coming his way, having worked on just such a play with Ryan during the offseason, but it took him a few seconds to pick up just where the ball was, plummeting out of the maze of lights that ring the roof of the stadium.
”Actually, I kind of looked at the defender and tried to find him, then I looked up and looked for the ball,” White explained. ”He was kind of backing up into it, so I wanted to get over him and have an opportunity to catch the ball. I kind of saw it through the lights.”
The key, he said, is locating the point of the football as it’s spiraling toward him. He leaped up to make a 59-yard catch, setting up the Falcons for a winning field goal with 5 seconds remaining.
”That’s what you aim to catch, especially on deep balls and stuff like that,” White said. ”That’s kind of where I take my eyes to – the point of the ball – and try to locate it and figure out where it’s going to drop. I’ve been doing it for a long time now. It’s been working.”
White insists he was never worried about his place in the offense, even after the Falcons gave up a good chunk of their future for the chance to draft Jones with the sixth overall pick last year. General manager Thomas Dimitroff talked of wanting to be more explosive, of wanting to break more long plays, which could have been taken the wrong way by White, who was coming off a career-best 115 catches for 1,389 yards.
He didn’t see it that way. He embraced Jones, made him feel like part of the team right away.
”He does nothing but benefit and help us on offense,” White said. ”He’s an explosive player. He’s going to be a great player in this league. When you add additional parts like that, you can’t feel bad about it. You’re only going to get better, too. As long as you get better and everything’s rolling like you want it to go, everything’s all good.
”You can’t be a selfish player in this league,” he added.
The benefit of having two game-breaking receivers isn’t lost on Jones, either. He also went deep when Ryan threw that long pass to White, making things extremely tough on the Carolina secondary, even when everyone in the building knew the Falcons had to go long.
”We’re trying to put a lot of stress on that safety, you know? Make him make a decision,” Jones said. ”And he was going to be wrong regardless, because we feel like we’re better athletes and we’ve got better ball skills against safeties when the ball is in the air. Roddy went up and made a big play.”
Nothing new there.
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