One day after his team's 56-14 victory against Tampa Bay, Falcons head coach Mike Smith said it was gratifying to see the defense deliver the way it did on Thursday night, playing fast, physical and in his words, "intentional, consistent and deliberate."
The Falcons defense started Thursday night's contest by pitching a quick three-and-out on the first drive and then received an extra jolt of energy with the interception-and-return score by second-year safety Kemal Ishmael. Reading the eyes of Bucs QB Josh McCown, Ishmael stepped in front of Bucs WR Vincent Jackson, stole the pass and ran it in 23 yards for the score, mobbed shortly thereafter by his celebratory teammates.
"It was a very important play in the game," Smith said of Ishmael's return. "If you want to say which couple of plays, and they all come down to four or five plays (that can change a game), Kemal's interception and return for a touchdown was one and then the defensive play that (Falcons WR) Devin Hester made, punching the ball out, after we had turned the ball over, those were probably, to me, two of the pivotal plays in the beginning of the game."
The Falcons face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a Thursday Night Football matchup in the Georgia Dome. Check out these pictures of the game.
It was the Falcons first pick-six since last season, when LB Sean Weatherspoon intercepted Packers QB Matt Flynn, returning it 71 yards for the score. Since 2008, the Falcons have recorded 11 interception-return touchdowns, each resulting from precise game planning and the players' playmaking abilities.
"We worked hard all week in practice, and on defense," Ishmael said. "As a team, we had to get things accomplished and that's what we did. We stepped up to the challenge and made plays."
Smith said defensive scores energize the entire team and that was truly the case in the Week 3 win. In addition to solid play by the Falcons offense and special teams, by night's end, the Falcons defense allowed Tampa Bay just 217 total net yards of offense, forced five fumbles (four lost), logged three QB sacks and scored on Ishmael's pick-six.
The team now enjoys a Sunday off, before preparations begin for next week's road test in Minnesota.