At one point during last week's contest in Jacksonville, O'Brien Schofield approached Vic Beasley, Jr. on the visitor's sideline to offer some words of encouragement. Schofield had noticed Beasley's recent progress—the speed, the tenacity, the energy were all improving—and, as one of Atlanta's emotional leaders, wanted his young teammate to know he was inching closer to a breakout moment.
Seven days later, once the Falcons took a 20-13 lead over Carolina with 1:30 left in the fourth quarter, Schofield again walked up to the rookie pass-rusher, locked eyes and said it was time.
And it was.
The Clemson product strip sacked Cam Newton on the second play of the Panthers' ensuing drive, giving Adrian Clayborn an opportunity to pick up the loose ball and secure a win. Beasley looked like the gifted force Atlanta envisioned when it drafted him eighth overall, and with the chance to spoil a division rival's pursuit of an unblemished record, he certainly rose to the occasion.
"Vic has worked his butt off for the last couple weeks of practice. You could tell he wanted it," Schofield said. "This week of practice was probably his best week. To let that translate to the game—that's huge for all of us."
After losing 38-0 in Charlotte, the Falcons knew they had to do a better job at the line of scrimmage to exact revenge. Doing so was particularly important because Newton, despite being a mobile quarterback, tends to struggle if he doesn't receive adequate protection: According to Pro Football Focus, he's completed just 46.4 percent of his throws under pressure in 2015—quite a difference from his 69 percent completion rate on all other passes.
It's a division matchup in the Georgia Dome on Sunday as the Falcons take on the Panthers in Week 16. Take a look at these photos from gameday.
The Falcons on Sunday pressured Newton on 15 of his 34 dropbacks, and the MVP frontrunner connected on just three of 12 attempts in those situations. Beasley, who registered a trio QB hurries in addition to the aforementioned sack, was often right in the mix.
"We've got lots of belief in him," Quinn said. "We felt him all the way through. He had a great week of preparation. He really came through for his guys."
Beasley's productive afternoon showed he's capable of disrupting the best quarterbacks out there. His explosiveness versus Carolina was palpable from start to finish; he looked healthy, too, as his torn labrum didn't appear to be a factor.
The 23-year-old won't reach his goal of double-digit sacks in 2015, but, considering the growth he's experienced in December, he appears to be on track for long-term success. And those around him are making sure he knows it.
"From all the players, I know we're all happy for him because that's just what we always expected from him," said Schofield. "He's shown flashes of it. That's two weeks in a row of him being consistent like that. If he can carry that, it definitely changes the dynamic of the front seven."
"He really came through for his guys," Quinn said. "When you come through for your guys and you make a play when you really need one, there's a lot of respect that goes along with that."