FLOWERY BRANCH - Warrick Dunn doesn't want his career to end with a whimper.
The three-time Pro Bowl running back, who last month became just the 22nd NFL player to rush for 10,000 career yards, has too much pride to leave the Atlanta Falcons in such disrepair.
From quarterback Michael Vick's 23-month prison sentence to coach Bobby Petrino's resignation and Bill Parcells' jolting of owner Arthur Blank, the Falcons have endured one of the worst seasons in league history.
"This is like a wasted year, and when you have seasons like that, I don't think any player who's competitive and wants to win doesn't ever want to go out on the losing end," Dunn said this week. "You always want to go out winning, contributing to winning and hopefully have an opportunity to play in the playoffs."
Other than reaching the 10,000-yard milestone, Dunn sees no reason to celebrate his 11th NFL year.
The Falcons (3-11) are in disarray entering this weekend at Arizona (6-8).
It's one thing to lose five straight games by a combined score of 161-53. It's another to have no idea who your head coach, your general manager or your quarterback will be in 2008.
Dunn's production has dropped dramatically from the previous three seasons in which he averaged 1,221 yards and helped Atlanta lead the league in rushing.
He ranks 27th with 635 yards, and Dunn's 3.1 per-carry average is the second-lowest of his career and worst in six years with Atlanta.
Those numbers aren't surprising, however, given the fact that Dunn's offseason and training camp routines were interrupted by shoulder and back surgeries.
Constant personnel changes on the line didn't help, either. The Falcons have started four different left tackles, and they've had a combined six different lineup changes at right tackle and both guard spots.
Behind quarterbacks Chris Redman, Joey Harrington and Byron Leftwich, Atlanta's offense averages an NFL-low 13.4 points per game.
"No, you couldn't make up all the stuff that's happened, but I guess the biggest disappointment for me is that there's nothing anybody can do to replace this year," Dunn said. "It's gone forever."
Dunn thought Vick's prison sentence, handed down last week in Virginia, would be the lowest moment of the season. Petrino, however, suddenly resigned the next day, saying goodbye to his players with a one-paragraph letter he placed in their lockers.
Then on Wednesday, Parcells declined to sign a contract with owner Arthur Blank to take charge of football operations. The two sides had agreed in principle, but Parcells, who won two Super Bowls with the New York Giants and coached most recently in Dallas, decided to take Miami's offer instead.
Without Parcells to make the coaching hire, Blank likely will continue to look outside the organization for a new general manager. In a statement he released on Wednesday, Blank indicated that current team president and GM Rich McKay will soon lose control of football operations.
Interim coach Emmitt Thomas, who has no interest in pursuing the job full-time, hopes that Petrino's replacement has enough foresight to keep Dunn.
"Every team has to have solid leadership, and you're not going to find anyone with higher character than Warrick," Thomas said. "He's still a good football player, believe me. He still has strong legs, and his vision is as good as ever."
If Dunn returns with Atlanta next year, he probably would share more snaps with No. 2 running back Jerious Norwood, the offense's fastest runner and a second-year veteran with a 6.4 average on 84 attempts.
The Falcons might also ask Dunn to take a pay cut from the $4 million salary he's due in '08.
"There's a lot of possibilities the new coach could do with me and Jerious," Dunn said. "It's like with Alge (Crumpler) and other guys on this team. (Petrino) never stuck with a plan and he didn't put us in a position to succeed. We didn't have a chance. When you practice 65 to 70 plays a week and run maybe 10 of them in a game, you're going to have a lot of inconsistency."
Dunn needs just 91 yards to surpass William Andrews for second place in franchise history and move 664 behind career leader Gerald Riggs (6,631), but those numbers hold little meaning against the backdrop of a nightmarish year.
"This season has been so bad for this team and for myself, the first thing anyone would do is say, 'No, there's no way I'm coming back,'" Dunn said. "But that's not my attitude. I don't think this is the right way to go out after going through something like this."