FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Can subtlety be spectacular? Or is spectacular a descriptor only reserved for moments of awe-inspiring flash? Can there ever be something extraordinary in the ordinary? When it comes to Jessie Bates III's impact on the Falcons, there very well may be spectacular in the subtle ways he is changing this team with his presence.
That's not to take away from the plays he makes that do catch our eyes. In Week 1, Bates was a spectacle in the best way. He had two interceptions and forced a fumble. He was a leading tackler in the win, too. The Falcons ultimately scored 17 points off of Bates' turnovers. So, yes, that performance reached spectacular level. Bates' NFC Defensive Player of the Week status confirmed as much.
He's a difference-maker on this 2023 Falcons team. That difference-making ability goes beyond the big moments, though, and it follows Bates into the quiet moments of subtlety.
It's at 10 o'clock on Tuesdays, when Bates gathers the linebackers and secondary together to get a jump start on film study of the next opponent. Tuesdays are player off days. They don't have to do that. Bates doesn't have to do that. He does it, anyway.
"There are no coaches in there, just him watching film with the DBs, linebackers," assistant head coach/defense Jerry Gray said. "... We know it's a off day and that's fine. But the good football players understand that, if you start on Wednesday, you're behind in the NFL. So he provides stuff like that. He talks to guys when we're not there."
It's in the moments of a fourth-quarter stand, too, when the game is on the line.
"It's some of the things he does behind the scenes, the confidence," defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen said. "He's been in the big moments before, so there's a calming effect. There's just something calming about being around him. He's never overreacting or out of position. He's very steady. ... You appreciate that, just being around him. I know his teammates appreciate that as well."
Speaking of teammates, it goes beyond Bates' impact on his defensive teammates.
An overlooked relationship within this 2023 Falcons team involves Bates and quarterback Desmond Ridder. For someone who has notoriously given quarterbacks a headache, Bates has taken Ridder under his wing to a certain extent. There's something important happening when Ridder sits down at his locker after practice on a Wednesday or Thursday and strikes up a conversation with Bates, who sits occupies the locker next to his.
Bates' advice to the young quarterback should be noted, particularly in the first half of the Falcons' first game of the season at home against Carolina.
"I always talk to him, and (tell him), 'Manage the game. Manage the game,'" Bates said in the locker room postgame. "It didn't look good in that first half for Des, it didn't, but he had a big play that sealed the deal at the end of the game. That's what I said: That's what good quarterbacks do. They don't turn it over, they make the right decisions and they manage the game really well. I think Des did a good job of that."
More so than in the locker room, there's something important happening on the sideline during games with this duo, too. If you're not looking closely enough, you may miss it. Ridder doesn't, though.
"I didn't even know this coming in, but where the quarterback sits coming off the field, that's actually where the safeties sit, too," Ridder said. "So, every time coming off the field, Jessie is one of the first people I see."
That's what happened in the fourth quarter of Sunday's win against Green Bay. When Ridder scrambled into the end zone from six yards out to cut the Packers' lead to one score, Bates was one of the first people to meet Ridder as he made his way back to the sideline.
All of those moments? They may be small, but they matter.
It matters that Bates is a coaching figure when actual coaches aren't in the room. It matters that he's staying late to work with defensive backs on the practice field most days. It matters that he's steady, a calming presence even in the chaotic moments. And it matters that he's connected with Ridder in a way that may be -- considering the nature of their positions -- a bit unconventional.
This all goes back to one of the key reasons the Falcons decided to go after Bates in the offseason in the first place. Everyone can see the impact he made statistically for the Bengals through his five years with the organization. The Falcons saw that, too, but what sold them on Bates was his subtlety, and the often-overlooked things he does that make a team -- made the Bengals -- better.
"We not only want players who will be good at their position, but players that are going to make the people around them better," Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot said after the Falcons signed Bates in the offseason. "He's done that through his career."
According to Gray, this shows up in Bates' actions as much as his words.
Throughout a week of prep, Gray said Bates is a great communicator in terms of what he sees on the field, how it could work and making sure everyone on the back end is on the same page. When Bates says he's going to do something, he does it. From Gray's point of view, the way Bates backs up his words with action is the most subtly spectacular thing about him.
"That's when they're going to make more plays, and you're going to get more trust out of coaches," Gray said during the Falcons mandatory minicamp in the offseason. "But the thing is that if you say you're going to do something and you don't do it, you get less trust. That's the thing that we're looking for and we wanted him to bring in here."
So, the subtlety of Bates? It's just as important as the spectacular of Bates. But maybe with Bates, the subtle and the spectacular go hand-in-hand. Perhaps when it comes to Bates, there's spectacular in the subtle ways he's affecting the Falcons in 2023.
Falcons safety Jessie Bates III honors family and bedrock beliefs with permanent artwork, which reminds him of what's truly important.