Robert Alford’s fearlessness has allowed him to play above his small-school pedigree and lead the Falcons in takeaways in spite of his part-time role.
Alford straddled the line between daring and foolishness when he recovered a fumble against Buffalo in overtime Sunday. Alford subsequently lateraled the ball to fellow rookie Desmond Trufant, a sequence that drew the ire of coach Mike Smith.
But the play allowed Trufant to run for 18 more yards to set up Matt Bryant’s 36-yard field goal to win the game.
“Alford took a chance right there, but you’ve got to do that sometimes,” Falcons cornerback Robert McClain said. “We’ve got five games left (before the game) and we need a spark, and that gave our offense a spark to get on the plus-50 (yard line) side and get points to win the game.
“I’m happy he did make that play. He’s young. He’s learning. He’s going to be a good player in the future.”
Alford has been pretty good for the Falcons now, too. It’s one sign of the Falcons’ sorry season that a rookie part-time cornerback leads the team in interceptions (two) and total takeaways (three) and ranks second in passes defended (seven). But Alford’s play gives the team hope can take on a bigger role in the future.
Alford (332 snaps) has played less than half the time of cornerback Desmond Trufant (763) and safeties William Moore (805) and Thomas DeCoud (775). Even Asante Samuel, who has missed three games because of injuries, has played nearly 200 more snaps than Alford, at 510.
Yet it’s Alford who has come up with the ball more often than anyone on the Falcons’ defense. Against the Bills, Alford chased down the loose ball at the Falcons’ 40-yard line after Moore poked it away from Scott Chandler, then pitched it to Trufant as Buffalo’s Robert Woods chopped down on Alford’s right arm.
Trufant took the ball and ran to Buffalo’s 47-yard line. Five plays later the game was over.
“We don’t coach that in that situation,” Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said. “That ball is on the ground, and (if) they get it and they kick the field goal, they win the game. I am sure Robert will learn from it.
“He’s an exciting young player, and he’s coming up with the football. He’s made some takeaways for us on the year. That’s pretty great. That’s good as a rookie.”
The Falcons selected Alford in the second round out of Southeastern Louisiana based in part on his strong showing against top prospects at the Senior Bowl.
Alford had a strong debut at New Orleans in Week 1, when he cut in front of wide receiver Marques Colston to intercept Drew Brees’ pass. But the Rams went at Alford in Week 2 and, according to Pro Football Focus, he allowed five catches for 68 yards and a touchdown in six targets. Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate beat Alford for a 6-yard touchdown in Week 10.
“The beginning of the year I started off a little slow,” Alford said. “But I have gained more and more improvement as the year went on. It’s (gaining) experience and focusing on my techniques and the things that I can improve on.”
Injury report: Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (collarbone), who has missed the past four games, participated in practice on a limited basis Wednesday. Coach Mike McCarthy said Rodgers did some individual drills, but has not been cleared to play by doctors.
“He did a lot more throwing (Wednesday) than he’s done in the last week,” McCarthy said. “He’s taking snaps and things like that and getting his footwork. We’ll see how he does (Thursday).”
Four Falcons players participated on practice on a limited basis Wednesday: tight end Tony Gonzalez (toe), guard Peter Konz (ankle), safety Zeke Motta (hand) and Weatherspoon (knee).
Early to rise: The NFL announced that the Falcons’ game against the Lions on Oct. 26 at Wembley Stadium in London will kick off at 9:30 a.m. ET (1:30 p.m. local). It will be the earliest start for an NFL game. The game is scheduled to be televised nationally on Fox.
The two other NFL games to be played in London next season are scheduled to start at 6 p.m. London time: Dolphins vs. Raiders on Sept. 28 and Cowboys vs. Jaguars on Nov. 9.