FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – There were precious few positives to come out of Thursday's 25-0 loss to the New England Patriots. The NFL's a zero-sum game, so the outcome renders anything other than the outcome essentially moot, there was a ray of sunshine peeking through dark clouds.
The Falcons defense played well enough to win. They allowed 19 points – the other touchdown came on a pick six – and kept it a two-score game until there two minutes remaining. The offense couldn't capitalize on anything the defense did, not even an A.J. Terrell interception that set up Falcons camp near midfield.
The defense did enough. The offense couldn't hold up its end of the bargain and has taken heavy flak for its performance in a national televised game.
"That's one heck of an effort from the defense against an offense that had scored a bunch of points coming in," head coach Arthur Smith said in a Monday press conference. "We obviously didn't like what happened down in Dallas, and they stepped up.
"I thought the defense played really well. The other reality is that they compete really hard and we're flying around the football. It's a shame we didn't put together a complete game, which is a shame because I thought the defense played really well."
That's a solid rebound from an embarrassing moment. The defense struggled mightily against the Dallas Cowboys. They gave up 43 points, were 9-for-17 on third and fourth down and allowed five touchdowns on as many red zone trips.
They couldn't stop the Cowboys but found a way to slow the previously red-hot Patriots. They were much stronger on third down and in the red zone, allowing a decent amount of yards but few points. That's how this defense can succeed, even without the exemplary pass rush some others possess.
It still wasn't good enough to get a win, which requires solid efforts from more than one phase of the game.
"You go back to the Dallas game and all three phases took turns falling apart at moments," safety Erik Harris said on Monday. "The defense, we took a step in this past game. You go back and look at all of our film and you have to play a complete game in all three phases. For this team to thrive, all three phases have to play well."
Doing well once doesn't constitute a trend. They'll need to back up a solid performance as a unit with another one Sunday at Jacksonville, where the Falcons will look to build on some defensive pluses as they continue to learn and grow within Dean Pees' system.
"This is a growing process," Terrell said after Thursday's game. "We have to keep stacking good performances. We have to count on each other getting the job done, limiting explosives and keeping them out of the end zone."
Getting to that point, of repeating a solid performance, isn't rocket science.
"It comes down to being on the details, knowing the installs we're putting in for the week and executing things well," Harris said. "That, and just playing fast, man."