FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- When linebacker O'Brien Schofield approached teammates Julio Jones and Roddy White last Sunday about having a players-only meeting Monday, it was a sign of leaders wanting to step forward to ensure the Atlanta Falcons don't totally implode.
Although a team gag order kept any details of the meeting from going public, the message was clear: Enough is enough.
You can point to coaching decisions, scheme or outside distractions in times like this, when you're in the midst of a four-game losing streak. But guys like Schofield, White, and Jones obviously wanted the players to point the finger at themselves and figure out what they could do better during this crucial five-game stretch, starting Sunday at Tampa Bay.
What if the reeling Falcons, for some reason, don’t come out with a renewed energy against the Buccaneers even after the players-only meeting?
"I would be disappointed," Schofield said. "We all know that our backs are against the wall. We all know the situation that we’re in. But it doesn’t change the mindset of this being a championship opportunity. This is a real championship opportunity from here on out, and we know that. It’s going to be interesting and fun to see how the guys come together.
"I do believe there will be a difference. You can already sense it. To bring that to life on Sunday, that would be awesome."
The message Schofield and the others relayed to the team obviously was aimed to motivate everyone. However, it's the veterans that should really take those words to heart and elevate their games to another level.
Like quarterback Matt Ryan, who has expressed his concerns about the offense behind closed doors but also continues to take ownership for not playing a high level. Like White, who should get even more opportunities to prove he can have an impact on offense with fellow receiver Leonard Hankerson (hamstring) now out for the season. Like strong safety William Moore, who admitted struggling to adjust to a new defensive scheme, causing him to lose valuable reps in recent weeks.
"The reps that I am in, I've got to take advantage of," Moore said. "I know I'm still the same player or even better than I was when I first came in. I've matured a lot on and off the field.
"It's a new defense. Whenever you get something new in the NFL, it's an adjustment. With adjustment, it takes time. I know my playbook. It's totally different going out there and running it and excelling. But that's no excuse. Me personally, I'm just trying to take advantage of the opportunities right now."
And Schofield -- one of those newly signed veterans along with defensive end Adrian Clayborn, guard Chris Chester, and Hankerson who signed one-year "prove it" contracts in the offseason -- has a chance to show his on-field worth over the final five games. He's already proved to be a leader off the field.
"Everybody's personality is different and some guys don't feel comfortable standing up in front of the group," Schofield said. "I definitely challenge all our guys, even myself, to find that area where you can bring that energy and bring that enthusiasm. Even if something is not going the way we want, we need guys to be positive like that, because it's contagious."