FLOWERY BRANCH - Before breaking out with his first 100-yard rushing game in more than a year last week, Warrick Dunn appeared on the verge of yielding first-string honors in Atlanta to Jerious Norwood.
Instead, Dunn solidified his starting status with 27 carries for 100 yards in a win over San Francisco.
He also moved closer to 10,000 yards for his career.
Dunn didn't have to be reminded Wednesday of his career total.
'I'm 147 away,' he said. 'That's pretty much all I know. Every carry I try to get positive yards so that number will be less. I think a bunch of my teammates know about it, but what's important now is winning.'
Before leading the Falcons to the 20-16 win over the 49ers, Dunn's production had been on a dramatic decline. His previous season-high was only 62 yards against Houston on Sept. 30, and in his last three games he rushed for 27, 15 and 28 yards.
The 32-year-old veteran had not rushed for 100 yards in a game since Oct. 15, 2006, and many were calling for Norwood, a second-year back with breakaway speed, to take the lead role.
Dunn's breakout came even before Norwood tweaked his right ankle early and left for good in the third quarter. Dunn had 65 yards rushing in the first half, including a 9-yard touchdown run when he was stopped at the line before spinning out and running left for open space.
'I can tell you it's been frustrating,' said Dunn, whose 27 carries were also a season high. 'That year was frustrating. It's just one of those things where things haven't fallen my way. The other day I just had opportunities.
'My body is feeling good. I'm starting to see things a lot better. I'm understanding the running game a lot better. It was just a matter of time before things came together.'
Dunn could have another busy day Sunday at Carolina. Norwood was held out of practice on Wednesday with the ankle sprain.
'It's sore,' Norwood said. 'But it's all a part of playing football. I'm trying to be smart about it, but I want to be ready.'
Tight end Alge Crumpler, who missed two games with ankle and knee injuries, was involved in limited portions of practice but will rest Thursday. The team also waived defensive end Derrick Jones from the practice squad and re-signed cornerback Brent Grimes.
Dunn said he was more comfortable against the 49ers when seeing regular carries instead of splitting the load with Norwood.
Falcons coach Bobby Petrino said Dunn earned the extra carries.
'Any time you get more carries you actually get into the flow of the game,' Petrino said. 'But you know he did it early. He started off so fast. He ran the ball early, broke tackles early and had that nice touchdown run and really that contributed to a lot more carries.
'I said keep him in there and keep giving him the ball. Even before Jerious got hurt he got a lot more carries than he normally would.'
The big game helped Dunn show the first-year coach, and perhaps some new teammates, that he still can handle the full rushing load.
'We've seen that Warrick can carry this team,' quarterback Joey Harrington said Wednesday. 'He is that type of player.'
Joe Horn, who has 8,666 career receiving yards, said he's pulling for Dunn to reach 10,000.
'The eye in the sky doesn't lie,' Horn said. 'You can look at the film and see Warrick still has a lot of gas left in his tank. He can still make plays.
'Warrick has always been known as a silent assassin in this league. I don't think Warrick has gotten the respect that a lot of other running backs have gotten. I hope he gets it Sunday. He deserves it.'
Dunn is third among active backs in career rushing yards, trailing Arizona's Edgerrin James (11,005) and Jacksonville's Fred Taylor (9,987).
If Dunn needs two games to reach 10,000 yards, the milestone could come Nov. 18 against his original team, Tampa Bay.
'That's who we play next week?' Dunn asked. 'Well, you know, crazier things have happened. To me it would just be ironic. I don't really care about the opponent. I'm just trying to get there.'
SideBar: FALCONS AT PANTHERS
When: Sunday, 1 p.m.
Where: Charlotte, N.C.