As the Falcons headed to New York for a matchup with the Jets last week, there was little reason to think this team might be able to ride its defense to a win-out finish to the season.
It had surrendered more than 20 points in six of its previous eight games, including four games giving up at least 34 (all losses).
But now two straight games holding opponents to single digits on the scoreboard -- seven to the Jets last week and just three to Buffalo on Sunday -- have given the defense a new lease on life and a new focus that has carried over to the field.
"I thought our defense played very solid; it was a very solid effort," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "I thought our defensive staff did a very good job of putting together a game plan, and our players went out and executed. We held the Bills to (178) yards of total offense and 40 yards rushing. It was very good to see us go out and play."
That was especially true with rookies Christopher Owens and Lawrence Sidbury, both of whom had career firsts in the victory over Buffalo.
Owens' came first, while guarding Terrell Owens one-on-one in the second quarter. Buffalo quarterback Brian Brohm lofted a long pass for his star wideout down the right sideline, but Christopher Owens cut inside, between the receiver and the ball, and nabbed his first interception in his own end zone for a touchback.
Just having a chance to guard a potential Hall of Famer was a big moment for Owens. Helping to hold him to just 39 yards made it even better. Grabbing the ball himself was just the proverbial icing.
"That felt really good," Owens said, of his interception. "Man, I've been watching T.O. my whole life -- literally. He's been in the league 14 years. I think I was 9. For me to get it, it feels really good. He's a phenomenal player."
One quarter later came Sidbury's chance to put his name into the stat book. The 6-foot-3, 265-pound defensive end grabbed a Fred Jackson fumble at the Buffalo 11-yard line, stumbled, then barreled toward the end zone. He carried multiple Bill players the final 5 yards or so before falling across the goal line for his first touchdown on his first fumble recovery.
Sidbury said he didn't even know he was lugging some extra weight during his last few steps as he honed in on putting the Falcons up by 24 points.
"I just grabbed it [the ball] and turned around," Sidbury said. "I think they said a couple of guys tried to jump on me, but I just kept running. It happened so slow; I was just making sure I didn't fumble the ball first. I started running and got in there."
The plays by the young defenders helped the Falcons keep Buffalo from advancing past the Atlanta 24-yard line during the game and bode well for the future for what has been an inconsistent Falcon defense.