With the Falcons mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, their focused has narrowed.
“We are playing for the next game,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said.
The Falcons are set to face the Buffalo Bills (4-7) at 4:05 p.m. Sunday in Toronto.
A year after winning the NFC South title and reaching the NFC Championship game, the Falcons have fallen to the bottom of the division and conference with a stunning 2-9 record.
“It’s pride,” safety Thomas DeCoud when asked what are they playing for now. “If we were 9-2, it would still be for pride. This is a game about pride, going out and putting your best foot forward.”
This is a major adjustment for a team that’s qualified for the playoffs in four of the past five seasons.
“Now, we have to just play for each other and our pride,” DeCoud said. “We have to go out there and put our foot down, draw a line in the dirt and make sure that we cross their line more than they cross ours.”
The Falcons hope to build on a respectable defensive showing against New Orleans’ high-flying unit.
Against the Saints, defensive tackles Corey Peters and Peria Jerry made dynamic plays. Linebacker Paul Worrilow had a tackle for a loss. Rookie cornerback Desmond Trufant continued to show growth.
“I do believe that success kind of breeds confidence,” defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. “In the course of a game, if the guys are playing well or if they make a play (their confidence goes to another level).”
Nolan believes that once you start seeing big stops and spectacular plays, they are contagious.
“It’s like going to the casino and right out of the gate you hit on a 99-1,” Nolan said. “It’s all their money now. So you’re feeling good and you end up going home rich. That’s what you’d like.”
Nolan was pleased with the quick start against New Orleans. He’s hoping for similar starts over the final five games.
“You need to play well early,” Nolan said. “It’s hard to walk into the game or the contest after what we’ve been through. It will start some place and then you have to build. You have to build.”
It wasn’t a perfect outing against the Saints by no means.
“I do think we had some lapses,” Smith said.
That old problem of missed tackles and poor angles came up on Saints tight end Jimmy Graham’s 35-yard catch-and-run. He broke a few tackles and it appeared that cornerback Asante Samuel took an angle behind the play.
“We did not tackle well,” Smith said. “I believe that we had 14 missed tackles in the ball game, according to our defensive coaches. That’s way too many.”
But overall, there were enough plays in the game, in which the Falcons held the Saints to 17 points, their second-lowest output of the season, to build on.
The next step for the defense is to create more turnovers.
“There were some plays on the ball, but we didn’t get any turnovers,” Smith said. “I thought Desmond Trufant did a very nice job on his plays on the football. He continues to improve. We have got to continue to stress that in practice and it will at some point in time come and show out on the field.”
Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon could boost the defense down the stretch.
He’s rounding into form after missing six games with a foot injury. The Bills game will be his third since returning.
“I think we had a little bit more energy,” Weatherspoon said. “So, we looked a little bit like the Falcons of the past. We were flying around a little bit, getting with each other and those definitely are the things you can build on.”
Weatherspoon knows the next step is to eliminate the lapses and start creating turnovers.
“What’s been so frustrating is we haven’t been able to turn the ball over,” Weatherspoon said. “Or, get the ball out. That’s something that I guess you have to work at a little bit tougher at practice and make the plays when they are presented.”
He liked the spunk that the defense showed.
“I definitely think you take that energy, you feed on that and move on to the next one,” Weatherspoon said.