FLOWERY BRANCH - Mike Peterson finally made peace with himself after last year's meltdown with Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio.
It took Peterson a few restless nights to put the embarrassments and disappointments behind him, but a reunion with Falcons coach Mike Smith has given the 11th-year linebacker a new outlook on football.
'You're going to go through some phases in your life when you have to learn from it and move on,' Peterson said Tuesday. 'For some reason, and I might not understand it now, but this season, after we win the Super Bowl, I'll look back and say it was a blessing in disguise.'
Peterson credits Smith with much of Jacksonville's success on defense from 2004-07, when the Jaguars went 40-24 and twice made the playoffs. Smith, who left as coordinator to become Atlanta's head coach in January 2008, also was his first and only NFL coach to always stay in touch and genuinely care about his personal life.
After Peterson broke his hand at San Diego and missed the final six weeks of 2006 and both playoff games, Smith took time to check in regularly and make sure his injured middle linebacker was emotionally stable.
'He's going to be the same guy on game day that he's going to be Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday,' Peterson said. 'That's one of the reasons guys in Jacksonville bought into the system. We loved Smitty down there. You wasn't just playing for the Jaguars and the name on your back. You was playing for the defensive coordinator.
'That's the main reason I'm here.'
In the second week of free agency five months ago, the Falcons signed Peterson to a two-year contract worth $6.5 million. By NFL standards, the financial terms were modest, but Peterson knew a lot of teams likely shied away from his injury history, which included a torn pectoral muscle that ended his 2006 season after five games.
Because Smith and Atlanta defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder had worked so closely with Peterson in Jacksonville, the Falcons valued his experience (starting 127 of 135 games with 1,365 tackles, 15 interceptions, six fumbles forced and seven recovered) over zero Pro Bowl invitations in four years with Indianapolis and six in Jacksonville.