FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons cornerback Christopher Owens has been cleared from the league’s concussion protocol program and will return to practice on Wednesday, head coach Mike Smith said on Monday.
Owens suffered a concussion in the Denver game on Sept. 17. He’s missed the games against San Diego and Carolina.
Against San Diego, Dominique Franks took over at nickel back, but Robert McClain played the position against Carolina.
“We let those guys compete over the last couple of weeks and we felt like Robert had a really good week of practice,” Smith said. “We felt like we wanted to get him an opportunity to play in the nickel. I thought that he handled it for the first time fairly well.”
McClain played 35 of 64 defensive snaps (55 percent) against the Panthers and finished with three tackles.
Owens will have to win his spot back from McClain.
“So we’ll have some competition going on at the nickel back position as we prepare for the game this week,” Smith said.
Before the refs could step in to settle a dispute between cornerback Asante Samuel and Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith, defensive end John Abraham picked up Samuel and whisked him away from getting to a squabble and possibly drawing a penalty.
“We were able to defuse that and Abe did a very nice job of doing that,” Smith said. “We did not want that to go in the wrong direction. It was good that Abe came to Asante’s side there.
“I think it says a lot about our football team. We are a very close knit group. When we get out there, we’re going to go out there and compete. It’s very competitive atmosphere. You’ve got to make sure that you take care of one another.”
The defensive ends, Abraham (five tackles), Kroy Biermann (two) and Ray Edwards (three), played a key role against Carolina’s read-zone option.
Washington, with rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III runs some of the same plays and the Falcons must prepare for the bootleg looks that Mike Shannahan’s offense has featured this season.
Newton had nine rushes for 86 yards and passed for 215 more yards.
“I think we’ve got an idea of what worked and what didn’t work,” Smith said. “We’re going to be facing a very similar offense. Robert Griffin III is not nearly as big. He’s got more foot speed than the quarterback that we just played. We’re going to have some different issues.”
Quick strike capacity
The Falcons posted two scoring drives that took less than four plays against Carolina, including a pair of long touchdown passes from quarterback Matt Ryan.
In their quick-strike attack, the Falcons have scored 35 points on five scoring drives of four-plays-or-less.
Matt Bryant’s 40-yard game winning field goal was the 13th game winner of his NFL career. … Ryan has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 19 straight games. … Roddy White currently ranks third in franchise history with 48 receiving touchdowns, trailing only Terance Mathis (57) and Andre Rison (56). … White’s 169 yards were the third highest of his career and his highest total since Oct. 24, 2010 when he caught 11 passes for 201 yards against Cincinnati. … Running back Michael Turner’s rushed for 103 yards. It was his 16th 100-yard game, breaking a tie with running back Gerald Riggs for sole possession of the franchise record.