ATLANTA – The biggest element the Falcons defense wanted to home in defensively since the start of the season was to finish strong through all four quarters of the game. On Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers indicated just that. Collectively as a defense, it was the most complete game that was played all season.
Despite being down two key defensive players in Ade Ogundeji and Mykal Walker, the Falcons defense found ways to make plays with rookies Troy Andersen and Arnold Ebiketie stepping up when it mattered most.
"That's kind of been the theme of this group, that's our team," head coach Arthur Smith said. "That's why we practice the way we do, and we got belief in everybody that's up. These guys believe and they understood the focus when you're playing a team like that. Guys were really tuned in, and I thought we had a good week."
The Falcons held the 49ers to just 50 rushing yards total, compared to the 153-yard run game San Francisco had in Week 5. This was the Falcons most efficient game this season when it came to stopping a team's rushing attack. Andersen, who got his first career start on Sunday led the defense with 12 tackles tying with linebacker Rashaan Evans.
Late in the first quarter, San Francisco 49ers running back Jeff Wilson was stuffed by Evans forcing a fumble that was scooped up by cornerback A.J. Terrell which resulted in a touchdown by safety Jaylinn Hawkins after Terrell fumbled in the end zone.
Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the San Francisco 49ers during Week 6.
It was a collective team play that put the Falcons up 14-0 in the first quarter.
"I would say so far this is one of the most complete games," Evans said. "It's always room for improvement. We're not satisfied, we're not too hype about just winning three games, we know we can win even more games. I think the leaders in the locker room have emphasized that multiple times that even when we come out with this win, we got to have a short memory and get ready for next week because we know we have to play another great team."
In Walker's absence, Evans stepped up as the defensive play caller. Along with 12 tackles, the veteran linebacker had a crucial pass deflection and forced fumble that provided the Falcons momentum throughout the course of the game.
Cornerback Isaiah Oliver made his return to the Falcons secondary after being out since Week 4 of last season due to injury. He had two tackles, one pass deflection and an interception late in the second quarter which prevented the 49ers from scoring before halftime.
Hawkins played his most effective game since the start of the season after having four tackles, one pass deflection, an interception and a fumble recovery that led to his first career touchdown. Every player stepped up in all three phases of the game which showed just how special this Falcons defense is.
"We believed in ourselves from the beginning," defensive lineman Grady Jarrett said. "It's something we talked about all offseason. I feel like the comradery was there and I just knew the pieces that we had different from years past and I believed in this group. We believed in ourselves, and we think our best football is still ahead of us.
"I think that's so encouraging. Just staying zoomed focused on the things we can control."