FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Dean Pees wasn't mad. He was just disappointed.
While this seems like an attempt to make a contemporary play on an old parental cliché, what the Falcons defensive coordinator felt after Sunday's loss to New Orleans wasn't that.
Pees gets upset over missed assignments and, more than anything else, lack of effort. The Falcons gave everything they had over four quarters. They only executed well for three.
"If you don't give effort, that's the only time I get upset. Honestly, after that game, I was really disappointed because I didn't feel that way," Pees said in his Thursday press conference. "I'm not pissed at the players. I'm not. I told them that on Wednesday when we met. I'd love to be mad because we lost the game. I'm disappointed because we lost the game."
Here where the disappointment comes in, from an opportunity lost.
"We made so much progress and had a chance to prove how much progress we made, and we let them off the hook. We just have to come back, fight back, get better and finish."
Pees was very cautious to avoid bold proclamations or overt displays of confidence in his press conference just before Week 1.
His message that day was clear: Sentiments don't matter. We've gotta go prove it.
The Falcons proved they can be an effective and impactful defense. They just didn't operate at that level for long enough.
Take a look as the team puts in the work at Flowery Branch to prepare for this week's game against the LA Rams.
That's the objective moving toward a Week 2 contest at the L.A. Rams and beyond. Play a complete game. Create havoc from opening kick to closing whistle.
"The pressures, the pass rush, for the first three quarters, looked like you want defense to look," Pees said. "The difference was that, in the fourth quarter or the at the end of the third, we met at the sideline and said we weren't going to take our foot off the pedal. … We kept the pressure on. We just didn't execute it."
Maybe the players were anxious, maybe a bit tentative. Maybe they went up against some talented players and lost key exchanges. Maybe it was a bit of both or something else altogether.
This is being written on a Thursday afternoon, far closer to the Falcons playing the Rams than the Saints. "What happened" is no longer the right question. A better one: "What will happen next?"
I spoke with several defenders during Thursday's open locker room session. They all appreciate being able to point to the first three quarters of that Saints game tape as what it's supposed to look like. They also know that won't win you a game.
"It's all about progress," safety Jaylinn Hawkins said. "I would say that even if we'd won. While it's great that we showed some good things, we have to keep moving forward and improving."
If the Falcons defense can repeat Sunday's level of production and extend it for a full game, that's something significant to build on. The Falcons were aggressive rushing the passer – Pees said he called for pressures 51 percent of the time against New Orleans, which he thinks might be a career high – and good covering up for the additional rusher. They were swarming, solid tacklers, with defensive tackle Grady Jarrett at the center of the storm.
"The intent was really good, as was us working together with the back end," Jarrett said. "Everybody worked off each other. Me having some success helped some blitzers come through and some good coverage helped us get to the quarterback. It works hand-in-hand."
Can the Falcons learn and grow and apply the last tape's teachings against the next opponent. Just like last week, there are no bold proclamations or overt displays of confidence heading into the Rams game.
Once again, the Falcons defense knows it has to go out and prove it.
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