In the week leading up to Atlanta's bout against Washington, defensive coordinator Richard Smith emphasized a small, albeit significant, detail to his cornerbacks: When Kirk Cousins goes into a three-step drop (and he will do that often), anticipate a quick throw to the outside if the WR runs a "thunder" seam route.
Robert Alford remembered this on Sunday when Cousins took a few strides back and looked his direction on the sixth play of overtime. He saw the QB eye a fast strike; he noticed his receiver, Ryan Grant, ran the route Smith discussed. So Alford turned his hips and broke towards the sideline.
Moments later, he high-stepped into the end zone.
Minute pieces of advice like Smith's can make all the difference in football, especially when the stakes are high. The Falcons dealt with a lot of adversity against Washington, and to overcome their flood of obstacles, the defense had to be mentally sound. Alford's game-winning pick, his second of the day, illustrates just how crucial those finer points can be.
"For the DB's, we knew it was going to be a matter of time before we got our hands on a couple of footballs," Quinn said. "No surprise that Robert has gotten the ball the last couple of weeks. It's just been alive for him. He had a bunch of pass breakups last week, then on the tip that he got today, and of course, the one to finish. We couldn't be more thrilled for him."
Smith wasn't the only coach who helped make the big INT happen. After Alford took a long pass interference penalty that led to a Washington touchdown, defensive backs coach Marquand Manuel pulled aside the 5-foot-10 CB and calmed him down.
Manuel, who recently played eight seasons in the NFL, drew from his background and made sure Alford would put the past behind him.
"I think Marquand is so uniquely qualified because he's been in Robert's situation where he's had so much experience playing in the NFL," Dan Quinn explained. "Their relationship is close enough to say, 'Hey man, it's right back at hand.' We knew Rob was such an important guy, keeps his poise and goes right back to it. He certainly did that."