Defense finally comes up big for Falcons

December, 1, 2013
12/01/13
9:55
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TORONTO -- A collective sigh of relief whistled through the Atlanta Falcons locker room Sunday, and William Moore likely exhaled a little deeper than anyone else.

The safety was obviously disappointed about dropping a potential interception and picking up another one of those illegal-hit penalties. But Moore certainly atoned for those miscues by forcing arguably the most critical turnover of the season.

The host Buffalo Bills had the ball at the start of overtime. On second down, tight end Scott Chandler caught a pass from EJ Manuel that Moore knocked from Chandler's hands. Falcons teammate Robert Alford picked up the loose ball and made a risky lateral to teammate Desmond Trufant, who sprinted 18 yards.

The key turnover helped set up Matt Bryant's game-winning, 36-yard field goal in the Falcons' 34-31 triumph in front of a Rogers Centre audience that suddenly turned in their favor. Atlanta (3-9) won its first road game of the season and ended a five-game losing streak.

"One thing coach preaches is finishing, and we showed that in overtime," Moore said. "You know, it's easy for a team that's 2-9 to lay down when you go overtime. But we didn't do that. We show our resilience. And we finished.

[+] EnlargeAtlanta's William Moore
Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY SportsWilliam Moore forces a fumble by Bills tight end Scott Chandler during overtime.
"Defensively, I'm happy for our finish and our efforts also. We forced a lot of turnovers at the end of the ball game. We've just got to start that earlier and we'll be all right."

Moore made a great point. The Falcons wouldn't have had to crawl out of hole had the defense been as stingy the whole game as it was for a 54-second span between the end of regulation and overtime. It started with 28 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and the Bills driving into Falcons territory. Manuel threw a pass to Stevie Johnson, who had gotten the best of Falcons defensive back Robert McClain for most of the day while working out of the slot. But McClain recovered in time to strip the ball from Johnson, and Moore corralled the loose ball to thwart the possible game-winning drive.

"Well, it talks about his individual resiliency," head coach Mike Smith said of McClain. "He had some tough downs. We put him in some one-on-one situations there in the slot with (Johnson). But he told me in the first quarter coming off, 'It's just the first quarter, coach.' And we needed all four (quarters). And the fifth one."

McClain talked about his overtime-forcing turnover.

"I should have been more inside leverage, but I made up a lot of ground with it," he said. "I saw him cut back in and I figured I'd punch it and hope my hand gets there and knocks the ball out. (I) knock the ball out and see William Moore right there to pick it up. And I was excited.

"I knew the game wasn't over, though."

When the Bills won the coin toss in overtime, it was up to the Falcons defense to hold strong, even after surrendering a 77-yard run to speedy Bills running back C.J. Spiller earlier in the game and giving up a 36-yard touchdown to Spiller near the start of the fourth quarter. Based on the way the season had gone, one figured the Falcons would yield yet another explosive play in the extra session.

Moore made sure it didn't happen.

"It just something I always want to do; run to the ball and be a playmaker," Moore said. "That's what they brought me here for. And I also had some mistakes in the ball game. So I can't sit here and act like I had a perfect game."

It felt like perfection, based on the way the Falcons have struggled to stop anybody this season. They entered the game 30th in turnover differential at minus-12. They still gave up 149 rushing yards to Spiller and 195 total rushing yards to the Bills. The Falcons yielded five explosive plays Sunday, including a 48-yard gain for the Bills after Moore was whistled for unnecessary roughness on top of 33-yard reception by receiver Robert Woods.

"We really needed this because we've given up a lot of explosive plays throughout the season," Moore said. "And also we gave up some explosive plays here today.

"Overall, we said it before: We're going to finish. And that's what we did."

Vaughn McClure

ESPN Atlanta Falcons reporter

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