FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons safety Jessie Bates III has blended in with his new team quickly.
Bates started his tenure by being named a captain and went right to work as he had two interceptions and a forced fumble in the 24-10 season-opening win over the Panthers on Sunday.
Bates will be back at his safety spot when the Falcons (1-0) host the Packers (1-0) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“There are a lot of things,” Bates said when asked about how the defense can improve. “Obviously, you want to start a little faster. A lot of things that you can take from the tape and get better at, but it’s a new week. We’re going to have to continue to learn the game and reset.”
After five seasons with the Bengals, Bates signed a four-year, $64.02 million contract with the Falcons in free agency.
“Jessie was very deserving,” Falcons defensive end Calais Campbell said. “He earned it. He (went) out there and really kind of set the tone for the whole season. The challenge is at what level can you do it again.”
Now, the Falcons are hoping that other players will follow Bates’ lead.
“We don’t expect him to (force) three (turnovers) every game,” Campbell said. “That’s impossible, but his impact on the game is going to have to be at that level every time. That’s what makes him a great captain.”
It’s always good when a team’s best players are actual leaders on the field.
“Having the captain be one of the superstars who sets the tone and makes big plays for us to win ballgames, that’s cool,” Campbell said.
Falcons assistant head coach/defense Jerry Gray noted that Bates has the entire secondary coming in for film study on Tuesdays, which normally is the players’ day off. The group got a jump on the game plan and by Wednesday were advanced in their preparation for the Packers.
“(He) had the guys come over at 10 o’clock,” Gray said. “No coaches in there, just him watching film with the (defensive backs), linebackers. (He said), ‘Hey look, we need to get ahead on Green Bay.’”
The coaching staff appreciates the help.
“We know it’s a off-day, and that’s fine,” Gray said. “But the good football players understand that if you start on Wednesday, you’re behind in the NFL. So, he provides stuff like that.”
It’s a good thing that Bates has backed up his leadership with his play.
“He talks to guys when we’re not there,” Gray said. “I know he’s going to do some things after practice that they do. This is your own time. So again, you have to prepare like you prepare, and that’s what he’s getting the guys to understand.”
The Falcons are trying to use the area’s traffic woes to their advantage.
“I know there’s traffic, and I know this, so let traffic die down and give me 30 minutes here now, (and) you’ll get an extra benefit on Sunday,” Gray said.
Even players on the offense are picking up things from Bates, who helped the Bengals climb from last place in the AFC North to Super Bowl contenders.
“I think – didn’t even know this coming in, but whatever – where the quarterback sits coming off the field, that’s actually where the safety sits, too,” Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder said. “Every time coming off the field, Jessie is one of the first people I see coming off the field. We kind of give a quick exchange to let each other know whatever.”
Ridder’s locker is next to Bates, Kyle Pitts, Jonnu Smith and Cordarrelle Patterson.
“Just having that group of guys right there has really helped me, it has taught me a lot,” Ridder said. “A lot of those guys have been in the league, other than Kyle … but those guys have been in the league for a long time and have seen a lot of ball.”
Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett is pleased with Bates.
“That was awesome,” Jarrett said of Bates’ debut performance. “Not only for the defense, but for the whole team. It allowed the offense to go get some points. It definitely was a momentum swing for us and for him to have his coming-out party as an Atlanta Falcon, winning defensive player of the week. … I’m real proud of him.”
The days of shredding the Falcons’ secondary may be over.
“I know he wants a good year ahead for himself, but it’s going to be good for the team,” Jarrett said. “It’s awesome to see him have that success.”
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