FLOWERY BRANCH - John Abraham asked his aching body to pull off an old trick.
Faced with trying to stop a go-ahead touchdown attempt late in the fourth quarter, Atlanta's star defensive end needed an unconventional pass rush against Tampa Bay left tackle Donald Penn.
Abraham burst from his four-technique stance, but instead of raising his arms very high, he slammed against Penn, dropped to all fours and crawled forward furiously to sack Brian Griese.
'Just an up-and-under,' Abraham said Thursday. 'I ain't did it since I was like 26, but I wanted to see if I could get away with it. He was doing a good job blocking me. He was punching a lot, and he was doing a good job at it.'
That was the second of Abraham's three sacks, the last forced the Buccaneers to punt away their only possession in overtime. He pursued from the left side of Atlanta's defensive line with a traditional speed rush on sack No. 15 1/2, a career high.
Tampa Bay right tackle Jeremy Trueblood was so frustrated after seeing Abraham tackle Griese that he held up his hands in frustration. Abraham hopes to make life just as difficult for Minnesota tackles Bryant McKinnie and Ryan Cook when Atlanta (9-5) visits the Vikings (9-5) this week.
First-year line coach Ray Hamilton, a former standout lineman for New England and a longtime NFL assistant, has given Abraham a new approach to his weekly and game-day customs. Under Hamilton's guidance, Abraham has learned that his body needs him to take less snaps at 30 than he did as a three-time Pro Bowl selection with the New York Jets.
Abraham had already learned the hard way, pushing himself so hard in his Atlanta debut that he need to undergo a major abdominal surgery for the second time by season's end. Perhaps he was trying to justify the $16 million in guarantees Falcons owner Arthur Blank agreed to pay him in 2006, but regardless, Abraham soon understood that the procedure, performed in Canada, had saved his career.
'With age comes intelligence, and I'm playing smarter than I did earlier in my career,' Abraham said. 'Also, I have a lot more stability and lot more range. I can do a lot of different things. They (coaches) really don't hinder me and say, 'You can do this but you can't do that.' It's working, so you know something's going right.'
Abraham also understands the futility of complaining about his Pro Bowl snub. Voters left him off despite his leading all defensive ends in sacks and ranking third overall.
'I went through it myself a couple of years,' Falcons nose tackle Grady Jackson said regarding his exclusion from AFC teams with Oakland in 2000-01. 'To me, the Pro Bowl isn't really a Pro Bowl. It's more like a popularity contest.'
The three first-team NFC ends announced this week were two starters, Justin Tuck of the New York Giants and Carolina's Julius Peppers, and reserve Jared Allen of Minnesota. Abraham made it as an alternate.
Returning to practice Thursday after missing the previous day because of a death in his family, Abraham measured his words carefully as he sat on his stool in the locker room.
'I'm really not worried about it, you know?' he said. 'All I can do is play football. If I'd played well enough, I would've made it, so I guess I didn't play well enough. The names that made it are people that should've made it. It wasn't like you heard somebody's name and you were like, 'Who?' So I can't really talk bad about it.'
Only a few players still lingered as Abraham spoke softly about having to drive Tuesday to his hometown of Timmonsville, S.C., so he could spend time with family members and close friends.
In late July, Abraham missed practice in training camp because his grandfather died. He declined to give additional details about this recent family loss, though he did say that the funeral is Saturday and that he can't attend because of the Vikings game.
'It's tough to lose anyone you care about,' he said. 'But when something like that happens, you get some perspective about what's really important in life.'