Curtis Lofton at the center of the Falcons' defense's rebirth

Singletary, a 1998 inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, likes Lofton's style of play and called him a "throwback."

"He plays the position the way it’s supposed to be played," said Singletary, who terrorized offenses for 11 seasons in the NFL before entering the coaching ranks.

Lofton, a third-year starter for the Falcons, is tied for the team lead in tackles with 27. He is at the center of a unit that the franchise targeted for improvement this season. Through three games, the defense appears to be much improved.

Take away two mistakes which resulted in touchdown runs of 50 and 80 yards, and the Falcons' defense would be giving up only 58 yards per game.

The pass defense, which was 28th in the league last season, gave up 365 yards Sunday in a 27-24 victory over New Orleans, but did not give up touchdown catches in two of three games.

At the center of the defensive rebirth is Lofton.

"He is the quarterback of the defense in terms of making calls and making checks," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "Our system relies heavily on making adjustments to things that happen from the time the team comes out of the huddle until the ball is snapped."

Lofton is tied for the team lead in tackles with rookie Sean Weatherspoon, who has an ankle injury. Lofton started as a rookie, but came out in passing downs. Weatherspoon is playing all downs, and Lofton has helped to get him up to speed.

"It's been a great addition," Lofton said. "Spoon, he's very good in coverage. He's good against the run. As a rookie, he hasn't been playing like a rookie. So that's really good to have."

On Lofton's other side is veteran Mike Peterson, who has tried to pass along the wisdom of a 12-year veteran.

"I had to just show the guys the way and how it's supposed to be done," Peterson said. "It's been a little easier because they are like sponge balls. They take it in."

Lofton is a low-key guy who quietly goes about his business of smashing into running backs in tight and open spaces. He had a powerful body-slam of New Orleans running back Pierre Thomas after he caught a short pass Sunday. He tries to maintain a level-head while playing a destructive and high-energy brand of defense.

Lofton has some secrets to his style of play.

"I think it's just attitude," Lofton said.

While cautioning that it's very early in the season, he has seen improvement in the defense.

"Every one is making an effort to get to the ball," Lofton said. "Everybody has been playing real good. The secondary has been getting turnovers, [we've had] forced fumbles and interceptions; that helps out a lot."

Lofton is appreciative of the comments by Singletary, but for now, he wants to destroy the 49ers' offense, which has a new offensive coordinator.

"We'll just look at what they did in the past three games and guess on what they are going to do," Lofton said. "They have a lot of weapons, and I'm pretty sure they are going to try to get the ball into their weapons' hands."

It seems strange to have a third-year player as a leader on the defense.

"Curtis has done good job of not necessarily being given that job, but earning that job," Smith said.

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