FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- It seems to be long forgotten, but Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett did tie a Super Bowl record with three sacks of New England Patriots QB Tom Brady back in February.
Could Jarrett, a third-year player from Clemson, duplicate that feat during Sunday night's rematch in Foxborough, Massachusetts?
“Oh yeah, without a doubt, the opportunity to get pressure is there, like it is week in and week out,” Jarrett said, refusing to fall for the bait. “We want to have an effect on [Brady]. He's probably one of the best to ever do it. So you've got to be able to get some hits on him, even if you don't sack him. You've got to be effective on the quarterback.”
Defensive end Brooks Reed leads the Falcons with three sacks. Outside linebacker Vic Beasley Jr., the reigning NFL sack champ, has two despite missing two games with a hamstring injury. Defensive end Adrian Clayborn, arguably the Falcons' most consistent pass-rusher through five games, also has two sacks. Clayborn leads the team with five quarterback hits, followed by Reed with four.
Jarrett, who recorded three sacks and nine quarterback hits during the 2016 regular season, doesn't have a sack this season. He did put quite a hit on Cutler last week, but it resulted in an unnecessary roughness penalty that wiped away an interception by linebacker Deion Jones and led to Jarrett getting a fine of $18,231.
Jarrett vowed not to lose his aggressiveness, regardless of the costly penalty and subsequent fine. He didn't believe his hit on Cutler was excessive.
“No, not at all,” Jarrett said. “Like I said, I felt the way I felt. But my mindset is the same every week.”
Getting a stronger push from the interior was the whole goal for the Falcons entering the season. They added two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Dontari Poe next to Jarrett with hopes of generating more pressure on opposing quarterbacks while also stuffing the run. Versatile defensive end Jack Crawford also was signed as a free agent to help the cause, but his season ended with a biceps tear.
The Falcons have defensive tackle Courtney Upshaw, who also sacked Brady in the Super Bowl, back this week from an ankle/knee injury to help on the interior. Meanwhile, they signed 31-year-old veteran defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin (6-foot-2, 310 pounds) Thursday, although it's unclear whether Rubin will be active against the Patriots.
Jarrett is the interior guy who carried the highest expectations coming into the season after his Super Bowl performance. His first sack of Brady came on a stunt in which he had a free run at Brady and then circled back around and got a third-down sack, thanks in large part to good coverage. On the second, blanket coverage made Brady hesitate on first-and-goal, and Jarrett beat right tackle Marcus Cannon to take down Brady. Two plays later, Jarrett used his quickness and excellent hand work to fly by right guard Shaq Mason for a third-down sack. Both Cannon and Mason still start for the Patriots on Sunday.
Falcons coach Dan Quinn discussed what he sees from Jarrett as a pass-rusher this season.
“The thing that he's doing better than I've seen him do previously is his initial quickness,” Quinn said. “He's really [on] the mark in playing that part of his game better than he has. He played a lot of nose tackle last year. He's played nose tackle and outside on the guard on the 3-technique. It's the initial quickness that he's playing with, and I think that comes with Year 1 and Year 2, and as you're going into Year 3, there's another jump you can make.”
We'll see if Jarrett and the Falcons can jump on Brady, who has been sacked 16 times this season. The Patriots rank 15th out of 32 teams in percentage of sacks allowed per pass attempt (6.87 percent).