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Norwood runs for 2 TDs, Falcons edge Rams 31-27

ATLANTA - Atlanta's Mike Smith proved a new coach can help turn around a team in one year.

Jim Haslett is left to wonder if he'll have a chance for a full season to turn around the St. Louis Rams.

The Falcons, who held off the Rams 31-27 on Sunday to clinch the No. 5 seed in the NFC, will play at Arizona in a wild-card game next week.

In his first year as coach, Smith and rookie quarterback Matt Ryan led the Falcons to an 11-5 record and the playoffs one season after a 4-12 finish.

'Now it's on to the tournament,' Smith said. 'We've very excited about that opportunity. It's a second season. That's what we talked about in the locker room. I'm proud of them to have 11 wins, but now we're all 0-0.'

A fresh start might sound good to Haslett and the Rams, who finished 2-14 with 10 straight losses.

'I thought we played about as well as we could play,' Haslett said of the loss after his team took a 27-24 lead with 6:39 remaining.

'Our guys played their hearts out. We just didn't get it done. I was proud of the way we played. I think that the way that they played will define who they are next year.'

Haslett replaced Scott Linehan an 0-4 start. When asked if he'll have an interview for the job, Haslett said 'I have no idea.'

The Falcons can serve as inspiration to teams looking for fresh starts.

'We came a long way,' said Jerious Norwood, who ran for two touchdowns, including the go-ahead 45-yard run with 3:41 left.

Added Norwood: 'Whoever would have thought we'd be in the playoffs?'

Michael Turner added 208 yards rushing with a touchdown to counter Steven Jackson's 30 carries for 161 yards and two touchdowns for St. Louis.

Atlanta's hopes of winning the NFC South and gaining a first-round bye in the playoffs ended with Carolina's 33-31 win at New Orleans.

Soon after Norwood's go-ahead touchdown late in the game, the video board posted a score which showed New Orleans leading Carolina 31-30. Wins by the Falcons and Saints would have given Atlanta the division championship.

Some players thought the Falcons won the division as Carolina's late game-winning field goal was lost in the celebration of the win over the Rams.

'Until the game was over, I thought the Saints had won,' said offensive tackle Todd Weiner. 'It was a little bit of a letdown, but we're still in the playoffs and we have momentum going.'

The Falcons will take their first three-game winning streak of the season to Arizona.

The Falcons overcame three turnovers, including two in the fourth quarter.

Turner fumbled into the end zone after a 70-yard run to spoil a scoring opportunity early in the final quarter.

Then, on Atlanta's next possession, Ryan's short pass for Roddy White was intercepted by cornerback Jonathan Wade at the Falcons 22 to set up Josh Brown's 27-yard field goal, giving St. Louis a 27-24 lead.

Atlanta answered with Norwood's touchdown run from the St. Louis 45 with 3:41 left. Norwood ran for 56 yards and two touchdowns on three carries. He set up his 8-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter with his 92-yard kickoff return.

The Falcons had to hold on as the Rams moved quickly from their 10 to the Atlanta 29.

Chauncey Davis sacked Marc Bulger on second down, and Bulger threw two incomplete passes to end the drive with 1:09 remaining.

Ryan was 10-for-21 for 160 yards with two interceptions and one touchdown.

Bulger was 19-for-32 for 230 yards with a touchdown.

Notes: Jackson is the first Rams running back since Eric Dickerson (1983-86) to rush for 1,000 yards in four straight seasons. ... White had three catches for 48 yards, giving him a franchise-record 1,382 yards receiving for the season, passing Alfred Jenkins' 1,358 yards in 1981. ... DE John Abraham did not play in the second half. Abraham, who was listed as questionable with thigh and shoulder injuries, said he was resting for the playoffs.