Falcons’ Grady Jarrett’s timely sacks helped to close recent wins

FLOWERY BRANCH – Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett is turning into the team’s closer.

In each of the past two wins, Jarrett had key sacks with the game on the line and both victories ended with the secondary getting a walk-off interception.

Now, the Falcons (2-2) are set the face Tom Brady and the Buccaneers (2-2) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. The winner will have sole possession of first place in the NFC South.

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Safety Richie Grant closed out the Seattle win with an interception, and cornerback Dee Alford secured the win over Cleveland with an interception. Both interceptions came after sacks by Jarrett, the two-time Pro Bowler.

“It’s just making a good play,” Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “He’s just making a play. I’m not taking credit for a guy … He did a great job and made a play.”

Jarrett has 3.5 sacks and five quarterback hits on the season.

The Falcons were up 27-23 against Seattle after they recovered a Marcus Mariota fumble with 5:12 to play. The Seahawks drove down to Falcons’ 28. On a third-and-8, Jarrett dropped Geno Smith for a 10-yard loss.

On fourth-and-18, Grant made the interception.

Against Cleveland, the Falcons were up 23-20, and the Browns marched into Falcons territory at the 46. On second-and-15, Jarrett broke through and sacked Jacoby Brissett for an 8-yard loss. Alford’s interception came on the next play.

Jarrett had some help.

“Some other guys did great things, too,” Pees said. “Whenever somebody makes a play, usually there’s more people involved. And in that particular case, the secondary did a great job of disguising a coverage.”

The look in the secondary made Brissett hold the ball longer, which allowed Jarrett enough time beat his man and get to the quarterback. Jarrett is proud of those uplifting plays and that they helped to secure victories.

“I think it’s been good for everyone,” Jarrett said. “Building confidence and flipping that narrative on us. Being able to finish on defense, the guys have been working super hard as a team and as a unit. I think it felt good for everybody in the building.”

In the season opener, the Falcons blew a 26-10 lead in the fourth quarter in a loss 27-26 to the Saints.

“I think not only myself, but just the whole defense knowing that we have to go out there and get a stop,” Jarrett said. “It takes everybody to go out there and do their job. Play the coverages that coach (Pees) wants to play in that moment. From play-calling to executing the play and to making something happen, it takes everybody on defense.”

In both of the wins, the defense gave up more than 400 total yards, 420 to the Seahawks and 403 to the Browns. So, there is room for improvement.

“I think they are playing better because they are more comfortable with the calls,” Pees said. “Understanding the calls.”

Pees has seen improvement since the meltdown against the Saints.

“The problems that we have had in the games have still been communication errors,” Pees said. “When we have given up a play, other than like if a guy just makes a good catch, the guy makes good catch. Or he beats the coverage because they have the right play against the right coverage or something. That’s football.

“That’s usually not a big play.”

The Falcons have given up big plays when they got in the wrong formation for the defense that Pees called. One person out of place usually ends up with a bad result.

“As long as we are communicating and stuff, we’ve got a chance, and that’s basically been that way all year,” Pees said. “It’s still that way. We just got to keep working on communicating and making sure everybody’s on the same page.”

There wasn’t a sense of doom when the defense took the field in Seattle nor at home against Cleveland.

“Luckily, in the last couple of games in the two-minute drives at the end of the game, we haven’t beaten ourselves,” Pees said. “You go back to New Orleans first part of the season, we beat ourselves in the two-minute drive. We miscommunicated.

“I told you that the pressure that we ran in the third quarter, they got sacked. We totally wouldn’t even know it was the same pressure in the two-minute drive. Why? I don’t know. You just can’t give them plays. As long as we’re not doing that, we’ve got a chance.”

The Falcons’ defense will face a stiff challenge from Brady and the Bucs.

“The reason that everybody thinks they look different, is because they’ve had players out,” Pees said. “You take (wide receiver) Mike Evans out of a game, you are going to look different.”

The Falcons have been in four one-score games, but the Bucs pounded them in both meetings last year. The won the first game by 23 points (48-25 on Sept. 9) in Tampa and the second by 13 (30-17 on Dec. 5) in Atlanta.

“They are still a great team with Tom Brady, the greatest of all-time,” outside linebacker Ade Ogundeji said. “But we are going to focus on what we have to do.”

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