Dalvin Cook adds to the Vikings prodigious rushing total against Atlanta Sunday, eluding Falcons linebacker De'Vondre Campbell. (Anthony Souffle/Star Tribune/TNS)
Photo: Anthony Souffle/TNS
Photo: Anthony Souffle/TNS

Are the Falcons tough enough? Sunday night promises a big test

At times he’ll apply something called a CT (as in Competitiveness/Toughness) Grade to members of the brotherhood. Asked Wednesday what kind of team-wide grade he’d issue following that season-opening 28-12 pratfall in Minneapolis, Quinn assured all that neither competitiveness nor toughness was the issue.

After one week, it may be a bit premature to call a team soft. Wait at least another couple of days before throwing around that most cutting kind of football slander. 

“Performance-wise, that’s really where we missed the mark on this one,” Quinn said Wednesday. “From urgency and competing and preparation and all that goes into it, it was at an average level. It wasn’t over the top. It wasn’t poor. The performance was.

“I was looking to find was there a lack of effort? Those are the things when you have a really poor performance you look to first. It was more the performance than the competitiveness or the toughness, in my opinion.”

That’s the easy answer after a loss like this, in which the Falcons were a swinging door against the run (giving up 172 rushing yards), and against the pass rush (the season’s first play from scrimmage, a sack of Matt Ryan) and as mistake prone as any freshman at his first dance: Being outdone on a primal, physical level.

That the Falcons defense was so consistently unable to stand up and set the edge against the Vikings as they ran wide and wild might steer one to that conclusion. 

But, again, the coaches stood up for their guys, because that’s what coaches do. “It wasn’t effort, wasn’t lack of intent,” linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich said. “The toughness, especially that the edge guys were showing, was right on point. I thought the mindset was right.”

Whatever the problems were – be they scheme, ability or attitude – you can be sure they will be probed again Sunday night when Philadelphia comes to the Benz. Everyone’s a wolf in the NFL, and the Falcons have shown a bit of a limp.

The Falcons defense faces the same choice as every other one: You’re either the plow or the furrow. Having done their studies, the Eagles are sure to put that choice to them early and often Sunday.

Like Ulbrich put it, “In the NFL, if you put something on film, the fire is lit, so you got to put the fire out. It’s something we’ll definitely see from here on out until we put it out – which we plan to.”

Like the Falcons, Philadelphia fell behind big early in their opener – 17-0 by the second quarter. Unlike the Falcons, the Eagles righted themselves and won, against Washington.   

The difference? “No. 1, they did a better job with the ball. For us to have three turnovers and the blocked punt, that was a big piece of it,” Quinn said. “You’re losing possessions and not having chances to put points on the board. And having the explosive pass plays (Carson Wentz twice hit DeSean Jackson on scoring passes of 50-plus yards). I thought that was kind of the thing that ignited them to get back into it.”

It wasn’t losing that was such an affront, it was how the Falcons lost. Sloppy and physically dominated is no way to go through life.

The great intrigue to Sunday night’s game is how the Falcons respond to the kind of loss that really can challenge a team’s view of itself. They have much to prove to their fans and to themselves here at just the one-eighth point of a new season.

“Give (the Vikings) their respect because they came to play, they weren’t half-stepping it at all,” cornerback Desmond Trufant said. “We just didn’t come with it how we were supposed to, but we’ve got another opportunity and we have to make the most of it.”

Looking back on the Minnesota mess, Quinn said, “That wasn’t who we will be.”

That’s not an identity anyone would wish to claim.  

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About the Author

Steve Hummer
Steve Hummer
Steve Hummer writes sports features for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He covers a wide range of sports and topics.
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