Brooks Reed had been setting up his loop rush all game.
The Falcons defensive end would try to power through the inside shoulder of Bears right tackle Bobby Massie. With the Bears threatening to score from the Falcons’ 5-yard on fourth down in the final seconds, Reed went to the outside and pummeled Chicago quarterback Mike Glennon. The walk-off sack secured the Falcons’ 23-17 victory on Sunday at Soldier Field.
“Our (defensive backs) and linebackers were covering their guys and that gave me time to run the loop and get to the quarterback,” Reed said of the game-clinching play.
The Falcons had taken a 20-10 fourth-quarter lead and were in danger of blowing it and possibly losing 24-23 if the Bears scored and kicked an extra point.
It would have been an excruciating loss in the wake of the Falcons losing Super Bowl LI after leading 28-3. However, players said after the season-opening win that wasn’t on their minds.
The Falcons needed someone to step forward and make one final play. Reed, who had a sack earlier, was the guy.
“That’s what they have been preaching to us this year, come up with a play,” linebacker Vic Beasley said. “That’s what we did.”
Quarterback Matt Ryan couldn’t bring himself to look at the play. As the Bears were lining up, he put on his baseball cap and then grabbed his helmet never glancing toward the field.
“I watched, but I’m a pacer I guess,” Ryan said. “I just pace.”
Ryan passed for 321 yards, but the Falcons’ run game was stymied. He’d rather have scored a late touchdown instead of the 37-yard field goal with 3:24 left that gave the Falcons a six-point lead. A touchdown would have put the game out of reach.
Instead the Bears, with all of their timeouts, had enough time to march down the field and try to win the game.
“In those situations, as a competitor, you’d rather be on the field,” Ryan said. “I think you always want the ball in your hands as a competitor. You have to have trust in you teammates and believe they are going to get the job done.
“I feel like the best teams rely on all three phases. Our defense stepped up right there at the end and got the job done.”
Falcons coach Dan Quinn said before the game that the Bears would be a tough season-opening opponent.
“I wasn’t surprised that we had to stand up there at the end and close it out,” Quinn said. “Terrific play by Brooks Reed.”
Reed, who’s floated back and forth between defensive end and linebacker, started at left defensive end in the base defense.
“It was just a really good get off by him,” Quinn said. “Any time that you make the quarterback hold it for a second, that helps. That’s what happened in man-to-man. I wasn’t sure the specific coverage was on that play, but I saw the back get out. Then it was a really strain and finish.
“You’ve heard us talk about pass rushing and the finish is what counts. It was good to see him get off to a good start today and have that game winner at the end.”
Reed signed with the Falcons as a free agent in 2015 but was slowed by a groin injury and started seven games and played in 13 as a linebacker. Last season, he played in 15 games and made seven starts.
He erupted against the Bears with two sacks, three tackles for losses and two quarterback hits.
Reed was proud of his game-clinching sack.
“Oh man, it was huge,” Reed said. “It’s what we preach about. It came down to the end against a very good team.”
In addition to Reed’s sacks, Beasley and nickel back Brian Poole also had sacks.
“Everyone did a good job of squeezing the pocket,” Reed said. “They did a good job of getting the ball off quick to their second and third options. They made a lot of plays. They ran the ball pretty well. We did just enough.
“It was kind of an odd game for us because we were in base package so much. There are a lot of mistakes that we have to correct and we’ll try and get that done this week.”
It was Reed’s biggest contribution since coming to the Falcons. He started his career with Houston after being selected in the second round of the 2011 draft.
“It was an awesome feeling to do that for the team and contribute toward the win,” Reed said. “In a situation like that on the last down and it came down to who was going to make that last play. It’s an awesome feeling. It’s just awesome to be a part of it.”