Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer 328d

Defensive resilience could go a long way for Falcons

DETROIT -- Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn talked all offseason about not knowing what lessons were learned from the disheartening Super Bowl loss until his players found themselves in the same type of situations again.

Well, the Falcons found themselves with the game on the line Sunday against the Detroit Lions with the defense needing to make a goal-line stop, something they couldn't get done against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI. Though the stakes were much lower this time, the tackle Brian Poole put on Lions wide receiver Golden Tate at the 1-yard line was a statement, even if it took a moment for that statement to become official. Thanks to a review that changed it from a touchdown and, in turn, resulted in a 10-second runoff to end the game.

"Brian Poole, at the end, really made the heads-up play, where it wasn't quite in and he had to get the guy down at that point to have another chance to go and battle," Quinn said. "I think those are the types of plays that demonstrate who we are as a group and how hard they want to strain and battle. I was really proud of the defense. They had to really show some resilient stops [Sunday]."

Being resilient means not getting down when things aren't going your way. Such was the case for cornerback Desmond Trufant, a one-time Pro Bowler and the reigning NFC Defensive Player of the Week. Trufant was whistled for defensive holding when fellow cornerback Robert Alford picked off a pass that could have ended the game. Then Trufant was whistled for pass interference four plays later, putting the Lions in position for what would have been the game-winning score.

Trufant, one of the most confident players around, never hung his head.

"That's just a life of a corner," Trufant said. "I made a lot of plays, made some bad plays. We won."

Trufant pointed to how the Falcons held Matthew Stafford and the Lions to 1-for-3 in the red zone after they entered the game 6-for-6 in such opportunities. The Lions were just 3-of-13 on third down.

Poole led the team with nine tackles, including one for a loss, and has two passed defensed. He also came on a blitz that resulted in rookie first-round pick Takkarist McKinley getting his first career sack, which McKinley said he dedicated to his late grandmother.

Adrian Clayborn also recorded a sack. And the Falcons had five quarterback hits on a day they played without reigning NFL sack champ Vic Beasley, who is recovering from a hamstring strain.

Both Deion Jones and De'Vondre Campbell played solid one-on-one coverage throughout the game, and Jones even shook off an early penalty for an illegal hit -- another example of resilience.

The "fast and physical" mantra Quinn goes by continues to come to life, even if the Falcons have some missteps here and there on defense. Once those mistakes are cleaned up, the Falcons should been rather solid on the defensive side of the ball when they begin their NFC South schedule in Week 9 at Carolina (Nov. 5). And based on the Panthers losing to the Saints on Sunday and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers falling to the Minnesota Vikings, the Falcons no doubt are the team to beat in the division, if there were any doubts about it.

You can't ignore a team that's 3-0.

"We've beat some good teams at the last minute and closed them out," Clayborn said. "It's good for our team."

And a good confidence boost for a maturing defense.

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