Falcons’ fill-ins shine as team overcomes latest injuries
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons continue to protect their NFC South lead by finding productive replacements for injured starters.
The latest evidence of the team’s depth came in Sunday’s 38-19 win over the Arizona Cardinals. Fill-in starters Matt Wile and Jalen Collins and backup receiver Taylor Gabriel were three players highlighted by coach Dan Quinn on Monday as playing crucial roles in the win.
The Falcons (7-4) will take a one-game lead over Tampa Bay into this week’s game against Kansas City (8-3).
Collins, a second-round pick in 2015, is in the spotlight as the replacement for star cornerback Desmond Trufant, who has missed two straight games with a shoulder/pectoral injury that could end his season.
Atlanta players have accepted the likelihood that Trufant is facing season-ending surgery.
“That loss is truly significant, but we have got guys behind him like Jalen Collins,” defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux said after Sunday’s game. “We also have a lot of young guys behind him as well that are ready to compete. I don’t think the drop-off will be too big. We have got guys that are hungry.”
Quinn challenged Collins and cornerbacks Robert Alford and Brian Poole to defend Arizona receivers close to the line. Collins shared the team lead with six tackles, including one for a loss, against Arizona.
“I really appreciated him competing,” Quinn said of Collins Monday. ”... He had difficult matchups on a number of good players and he just kept responding. We’re anxious to see where he goes, but for me his arrow is certainly trending up.”
Quinn said the team would add another defensive back this week if Trufant is placed on injured reserve.
Wile excelled in his NFL debut as regular punter Matt Bosher missed the game with a hamstring injury. Wile averaged 58 yards on two punts and had touchbacks on each of his seven kickoffs.
Quinn, who acknowledged last week he was nervous about having a punter with no NFL experience making the start, applauded Wile’s debut.
“When your opportunity comes, you go nail it,” Quinn said.
Gabriel didn’t start but had four catches for 75 yards , including two touchdowns on screens which showcased his speed.
Rookie tight end Austin Hooper had two catches and Levine Toilolo also had a catch as tag-team replacements for Jacob Tamme, who was placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury during the team’s bye week.
The team also weathered a wave of injuries at linebacker early in the season. Sean Weatherspoon was placed on IR while De’Vondre Campbell missed four games and Deion Jones missed one game.
Quinn said it is important to “recognize the value” of every backup.
“That’s why we push each guy to take them as far as we can, knowing when your opportunity is called, you’re ready to answer,” he said. “That’s one of the best ways to demonstrate earning respect from your teammate. Here’s my opportunity, I’m going to go nail it.”
NOTES: Quinn said DE Adrian Clayborn, who left the game with a knee injury, will see a doctor this week. An update on Clayborn’s status is expected on Wednesday. ... Following his review of the game film, Quinn said he hopes S Keanu Neal is not fined for a hit on Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald that drew an unnecessary roughness penalty. Both players lowered their helmets before the contact. “I thought it was a very clean hit where he’s hitting the strike zone exactly where we want him to,” Quinn said of Neal.
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