Falcons coach Dan Quinn, with the team’s playoffs hopes in jeopardy, was elated to hear that Desmond Trufant would return to practice and play against the Saints.
The Falcons (7-5) will certainly need their top coverage cornerback when they face Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints (9-3) at 8:25 p.m. Thursday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
With Trufant (concussion) and nickel back Brian Poole (back) out, Minnesota quarterback Case Keenum dinked-and-dunked his way to a 14-9 win as he completed 25 of 30 passes – mostly check downs – for 227 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday.
With Blidi Wreh-Wilson playing for Trufant and free safety Ricardo Allen playing nickel back, the Falcons had to sit in zones most of the day and Keenum took what was given.
With the game on the line, the Falcons tried to play some man-to-man converage. On third-and-4 from Atlanta’s 43-yard line, Minnesota’s Adam Thielen shook free of C.J. Goodwin’s attempted press coverage and broke open inside for a 22-yard gain that sealed the victory.
Wreh-Wilson played 56 of 66 defensive snaps (85 percent). Goodwin only played two defensive snaps.
Also, Allen didn’t have a snap in the slot. In 18 coverage snaps, he was targeted six times and allowed five catches for 55 yards.
With Trufant, a Pro Bowler in 2015, back in the the Falcons secondary they can play their full allotment of zone and man coverages.
But Wreh-Wilson had a strong game.
“Those guys stepped up,” right cornerback Robert Alford said. “Those guys that were behind us, they’ve been with us since training camp. They were prepared. It was not surprising to see those guys that play behind us step up and do their part.”
Wreh-Wilson had been inactive for seven games and had not started this season before Sunday. He was active against Detroit, Buffalo, New England and the New York Jets this season. The former third-round pick (70th overall) by Tennessee in 2013, has now played in 39 NFL games with 14 starts. He was signed by the Falcons on Nov. 26, 2016.
“There was an opportunity just with the way the season has gone,” Wreh-Wilson said. “The coaches asked me to go in there and they’ve prepared me since I’ve gotten here.”
Wreh-Wilson finished with two tackles and one pass breakup. He was the closest player to tight end Kyle Rudolph on his 4-yard touchdown catch in what was likely a blown coverage.
“It was nice to be out there,” Wreh-Wilson said. “It was a hard-fought game. We battled until the end. We have a short turnaround going into the New Orleans game.”
Wreh-Wilson didn’t find out he was starting until late last week.
“Earlier in the week I had got some reps, but as we went through the week we saw how B. Poole and Tru, how they (were going to be unavailable),” Wreh-Wilson said. “As we found out later in the week then I got the nod.”
Wreh-Wilson, who’s 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds and played at Connecticut, looked comfortable in zone coverage.
Before facing the Vikings, Wreh-Wilson had played three defensive snaps and 16 special teams snaps this season.
“They showed a lot of multiple groups,” Wreh-Wilson said. “We just had to be on top of the substitutions and know what they run out of the different groups.”
He was impressed by Keenum.
“He’s a scrappy kid,” Wreh-Wilson said. “He’s been a starter in this league. He’s doing a good job over there. He’s doing a good job managing games and he’s winning games for them. Kudos to him.”
With Trufant back, Wreh-Wilson plans to stay ready.
“Whatever the teams needs me to do, I’ll will do,” Wreh-Wilson said. “I know that Tru and Poole are working their hardest to get better and be ready to go. But whatever the team needs me to do, I’m willing to do.”
The Falcons beat the Saints twice last season. The Falcons won 45-32 in New Orleans on Sept. 26, 2016 and 38-32 on Jan. 1, 2017 in the last regular-season game at the Georgia Dome. The Saints lead the NFC South and the Falcons need to make up ground with just four games remaining.
“We get to play those guys twice a year,” Alford said. “I’m very familiar with them. I’m in my fifth year so I’ve been going against them a lot. We just have to execute the game plan and study the film.”