SEATTLE – Matthew Stafford connected with Cooper Kupp late in the fourth quarter, converting a third down that would essentially ice an L.A. Rams victory.
Not if Darren Hall had something to say about it. The second-year cornerback stuck with the play and focused as much on stripping the ball than making the tackle. That effort paid off, with the ball ending up free bouncing toward the sideline. Hall got there first, fell on it and gave the Falcons a chance to complete an improbable comeback.
It didn't end up working out and Atlanta still took the loss, but there were plenty of encouraging signs within that comeback push that provides hope for wins in the future.
Creating takeaways might be the biggest one.
The Falcons have four takeaways so far, with a fumble recovered against the New Orleans Saints and three more generated against the L.A. Rams. They picked Matthew Stafford twice, with Hall's heroics punctuating a solid second-half defensive effort. They also had a scoop-and-score after blocking a punt.
"We emphasize being alert, being ball aware," veteran safety Dean Marlowe said. "Give a lot of credit to our special teams coach, too, because we're ball aware in the kicking game as well. At the end of every play, there's always an opportunity to get a takeaway. It's crunch time and we need to go, and that's when you have to push to pop the ball free.
"Take the last game as an example. Darren was ball aware and came up with a huge play when we needed it the most."
The Falcons are coming up with big plays at a solid, improved clip.
The Falcons had just 20 takeaways all last year. They're on pace for 34 in 2022, which would've tied for the league lead in '21. That's, you know, a positive step for this defense and something to build on as they search for the season's first win on Sunday against the host Seattle Seahawks.
"The guys feel good that we've had some turnovers in the first two games," defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. "We didn't have any sacks against the Rams but we haven't gotten some sacks in the first one. We've shown progress is that area because last year we didn't have many sacks or takeaways by the end of the year. All those things help our psyche."
That's an important factor for a relatively young group with plenty of new faces, but simply creating turnovers isn't enough. Sure, they save points in their own right – Casey Hayward's end-zone interception against the Rams is proof of that – but the Falcons need to take advantage of the opportunities these takeaways create.
That aspect of things has been lacking through two games. The Falcons have scored just once off of defensive takeaways. Drake London's first touchdown came after Mykal Walker's interception set the offense up at L.A.'s 20-yard line. Outside that, the offense hasn't capitalized. That unit has done the opposite, committing turnovers on the other three takeaways. There's some underlying context involved, with the Falcons pushing the ball downfield for scores without time on its side, but interceptions came after two defensive takeaways against the Rams.
And Marcus Mariota fumbled on the five-yard line after the Saints coughed it up deep in their own territory. Had the Falcons scored on that drive, odds of winning in Week 1 would've gone sky high.
And, despite having more takeaways than all but five teams, the Falcons still have a minus-1 turnover differential. They've given the ball up five times, with two fumbles, two interceptions and a turnover on downs. Opponents have scored 14 points off Falcons turnovers – there was a missed field goal in there, too – big moments in games decided by so little.
If the offense starts taking more advantage of quick-change situations, overall outcomes could improve.
Opportunities must continue being created by a defense that is doing a quality job taking the ball away thus far.
"Guys are flying to the ball and are actively trying to get the ball out," safety Richie Grant said. "It's just guys doing their jobs. We just have to keep that up."