FLOWERY BRANCH (AP) — Roddy White is beginning to perform like an elite receiver again — just in time for a final visit to one of his favorite stadiums.
White and the Falcons will help close Candlestick Park in Monday night’s game at the San Francisco 49ers.
Asked about his memories of the stadium, White quickly mentioned the NFL’s top all-time receiver.
"Man, I just remember Jerry Rice just tearing everybody up out there at Candlestick Park," White said Wednesday.
Perhaps Rice’s catches are not White’s favorite memory of the facility.
"I also remember every time I go to Candlestick, I tear it up, too," he said.
The bravado, delivered with a smile, was a sure sign White is finally feeling healthy and confident. He battled ankle and hamstring injuries most of the season and didn’t have more than four catches in any game until he finally regained his form with his three best games of the season the last three weeks.
White had 10 catches for 143 yards in a win against Buffalo on Dec. 1, followed by eight catches for 74 yards against Green Bay. He added another strong game with five catches for 53 yards in last week’s 27-26 win over Washington.
It’s no coincidence the Falcons (4-10) have won two of the three games with White returning to top form.
Now comes one final chance to shine at Candlestick.
White set a team record with 210 yards receiving and two touchdowns in Atlanta’s 45-10 win at Candlestick in 2009.
"I loved that," he said. "That was a good day for us.
"That stadium has been pretty good to me. And I like the grass. It’s cut pretty low. Fast surface. You can go out there and make some plays."
Atlanta’s last game against the 49ers was not so memorable. The Falcons led 17-0 before losing 28-24 to the 49ers in last season’s NFC championship game at the Georgia Dome.
White had seven catches for 100 yards but the Falcons fell short of their effort to reach the Super Bowl.
When Atlanta’s 2013 schedule was released, the rematch against San Francisco looked like it could help determine playoff seeds. Instead, the Falcons have their first losing record in six years with coach Mike Smith.
The Falcons have given rookies and second-year players bigger roles the last two weeks. The Falcons started six rookies, including five on defense, against the Redskins last week. Second-year defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi started ahead of Osi Umenyiora. Two rookies, right tackle Ryan Schraeder and safety Zeke Motta, made their first starts.
Smith said he’ll continue to spotlight the young players in the final two regular season games, but the roles of a few veterans — including White, tight end Tony Gonzalez and quarterback Matt Ryan — will not change.
"There are certain positions and certain guys where I think guys are head and shoulders above other players on our team and give us the best chance to win," Smith said Wednesday. "I think there are a handful of guys who fit into that category."
The Falcons have little more than pride and their slot in the NFL draft at stake against the 49ers. White said playing the prime-time game on national TV will motivate the Falcons.
"It’s always fun to go out there on Monday night football," White said. "It’s just a little bit more special when you go out there and you play at 8 o’clock and everybody is watching. It’s two days before Christmas and everybody is watching the game. It’s just a special moment.
"The game being on Monday night makes it that much more important. We’ll be geared up and jacked up to go out there and play and try to get us a win."