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Sunday, December 15, 2013
Young Falcons bend, but don't break

By Vaughn McClure


ATLANTA -- It seemed only fitting that Atlanta Falcons rookie cornerback Desmond Trufant tipped away a gutsy two-point conversion attempt by the Washington Redskins to preserve Sunday's 27-26 win.

No matter how the turnover-filled game was dissected, it marked yet another step in the Falcons' youth movement as the organization continues preparation for the future.

True, there are going to be some hiccups along the way, as was evident throughout Sunday's matchup. But the resilience shown by Trufant and some of the other young players to shake off their inconsistent play was an encouraging sign.

"At my position, sometimes you're going to give up some," said Trufant, who was displeased about allowing a touchdown. "That's just the nature of the game. This is the best in the world. You've got to stay mentally strong. You can't get down on yourself because it's a long football game. Like you saw, we can turn it around and make big plays."

Atlanta's Desmond Trufant
Rookie Desmond Trufant breaks up a two-point conversion attempt intended for Pierre Garcon.
A defense starting three rookies in the secondary and two at linebacker -- as well as second-year player Jonathan Massaquoi over Osi Umenyiora at right defensive end -- got exposed early and often by new Redskins starter Kirk Cousins. But the Falcons still managed to come up with seven turnovers, the most they've had in a game since 1988. They scored 20 points off those turnovers.

Days before the game, veteran safety William Moore expressed confidence in his rookie defensive backs, but vowed to step up his game in the process. He followed through with a key interception immediately after the Falcons' offense failed to punch it in on fourth-and-goal midway through the third quarter. Moore's turnover led to Steven Jackson's 2-yard touchdown run.

Trufant also had a fourth-quarter interception that set up Matt Bryant's 51-yard field goal.

Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan made an adjustment with the defensive backfield at halftime after the Falcons surrendered 320 first-half yards, including a 53-yard touchdown from Cousins to Pierre Garcon. In the second half, the secondary played more quarters coverage -- a four-deep, three-underneath zone. In the third quarter, the defense allowed the Redskins just 13 yards in 10 plays.

The defensive switch seemed to make rookie defensive backs Robert Alford and Zeke Motta more comfortable in their respective roles. Motta admitted he blew his over-the-top coverage on Cousins' 23-yard touchdown pass to tight end Fred Davis. But the rookie settled down afterward.

"It was a learning day for those rookies," coach Mike Smith said. "We gave up some big, explosive plays on the corners. Then we came back and made a play.

"That was a heck of an interception that Desmond Trufant had there in the second half of the ballgame. There's going to be plays made and there's going to be plays given up. We need to continue to focus on not giving up those explosive plays. It's been our Achilles' heel for the entire season on defense."

Although veteran such as Moore (interception, fumble recovery) and defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (two fumble recoveries) spearheaded Sunday's effort, Smith has plenty to be encouraged about in terms of his young players growing up. Trufant, the team's first-round pick, has been steady all season long and undrafted linebacker Paul Worrilow fell one tackle short of his seventh consecutive double-digit tackle game. Second-rounder pick Alford had nine tackles while fourth-round pick Malliciah Goodman came up with a fumble recovery.

"We're going to be around here a long time, so I think it's good for us to get out there and just get on the same page and get used to playing with each other," Alford said. "To finish strong, that's really what we're trying to do. We're trying to finish strong so we can have momentum coming into next year."