Dec 12, 2021; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Atlanta Falcons linebacker Mykal Walker (3) returns an interception thrown by Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (not pictured) for a touchdown during the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Falcons’ defense builds chemistry off strong showing vs. Panthers

For a unit that had its fair share of struggles throughout the season, the Atlanta Falcons’ defense had plenty to be pleased with the day after Sunday’s 29-21 win over the NFC South rival Carolina Panthers.

The Falcons contained Carolina’s rushing attack to 91 yards on 3.5 yards per attempt. They held Carolina to 4 of 11 on third down. And they came away with two interceptions in the first half — one by Mykal Walker off longtime foe Cam Newton for a touchdown, then a follow-up on his replacement, P.J. Walker.

Coach Arthur Smith credited defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ play design, in which Foyesade Oluokun rushed around right tackle to force Newton to get rid of the ball, and Walker materialized from his linebacker spot to pick off the pass.

“I’m assuming obviously that Cam probably didn’t realize where Mike was popping from, and it was a good disguise, but it was good by all 11 (players),” Smith said. “It takes everybody to do their job.”

Starting cornerback A.J. Terrell nabbed his second interception of the season on the final Carolina possession before halftime. After the game, Terrell marveled at how his defensive teammates were getting comfortable and learning from one another.

“It’s very important, it’s very good for us,” Terrell said. “Just coming in, being young, and just buying into each other, (it is) trying to find chemistry each week and trying to get the W each week, too.”

Smith has hinted that Pees – both in their first year with the Falcons — could just be scratching the surface of what he can implement within his unit.

“It’s what your guys can handle, and we’re not going to force things that may not fit our current personnel,” Smith said. “That’s not a knock on anybody, that’s just the way it goes. You’re constantly evaluating that.”

Now 6-7 after once being 4-6, the Falcons are making a push in the NFC wild-card race and have a road game Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers (7-6) that could prove crucial in the postseason chase.

The 49ers are coming off a 26-23 overtime win over the Cincinnati Bengals. Tight end George Kittle caught 13 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown, one week after hauling in nine receptions for 181 yards and two scores against Seattle.

Kittle will be the next offensive threat Atlanta’s burgeoning defense must neutralize.

“He’s one of those players that when you watch him play, he doesn’t cheat the game,” Smith said. “He’s a very, very effective route runner. He knows how to get open, makes big plays in big moments. I really have a great appreciation of the way he plays every down.”

Smith did not provide injury updates for his team, but later Monday, NFL Network reported that starting safety Erik Harris will miss the rest of the season with a torn pectoral muscle.

Harris left early in the first quarter of Sunday’s game. He finishes his first season in Atlanta with 64 tackles, eight pass breakups and half a sack over 12 starts.

–Field Level Media

Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jaylen Waddle (17), is stopped short of a first down during second half action by Atlanta Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell (24), Atlanta Falcons safety Richie Grant (27) and Atlanta Falcons free safety Erik Harris (23) other NFL game at Hard Rock Stadium Sunday in Miami Gardens.

Atlant Falcons V Miami Dolphins 20

Falcons CB A.J. Terrell earning notice as a lockdown corner

The Atlanta Falcons’ defense held Alvin Kamara and the New Orleans Saints to three points through three quarters Sunday, then survived a late comeback attempt for a 27-25 win on the road.

Among the Atlanta defenders who gave a stellar performance was cornerback A.J. Terrell, who broke up a season-high three passes from New Orleans quarterback Trevor Siemian and recorded five tackles.

The second-year pro has yet to snag his first interception of the season, but he has helped the Falcons by locking down his side of the field as Atlanta has improved to 4-4.

“He’s been solid,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said Monday. “He makes an impact on every game when he’s out there. He continues to improve. He’s had some chances to pick the ball off, and I think next time he probably will.”

There are other ways to grade a defensive back besides interception total — especially when quarterbacks decide it’s better not to throw someone’s way. According to Pro Football Focus, Terrell has allowed just 74 receiving yards this season, the fewest of any starting corner in the league.

Smith was quick to point out that Terrell will attract more attention from fans and the media because of his status as a first-round draft pick last year out of Clemson. Smith said Fabian Moreau has also had a strong season opposite Terrell. The Falcons have needed them to perform, with slot cornerback Isaiah Oliver lost for the season with a knee injury.

“It’s an ongoing process,” Smith said. “(Terrell) could probably tell you he could still play better. I know there (will be) some social media fan boy … when you look at some of these other grading systems and whatever. He’s done a nice job, but he can continue to get better for us.”

That will be pivotal as the Falcons head into Week 10’s visit to the Dallas Cowboys, whose normally dynamic offense features not only Dak Prescott at quarterback but also a talented receiver tandem in Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb.

The Falcons passed over Lamb when they selected Terrell 16th overall in the 2020 draft. A former five-star high school prospect, Terrell grew up in Atlanta before heading to Clemson, where he grabbed a pick-six off Tua Tagovailoa in the Tigers’ national championship game victory in January of 2019.

For now, the hometown connection is paying dividends for the Falcons. On the season, Terrell has six pass breakups and a forced fumble to go with 29 tackles, after making 14 starts as a rookie and racking up seven pass breakups, three forced fumbles and an interception.

But as Smith said, “it’s everybody involved” that he needs to continue producing on defense.

“There’s a lot of people that help and make this thing go,” Smith said. “The contributions that you get from guys, and it’s a long season, you need that. There’s no scholarships given here. Everybody we bring in there, as we say, has a chance to play and contribute.”

–Field Level Media

May 25, 2021; Flowery Branch, GA, USA;  Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Russell Gage  (14) catches a pass during Falcons OTA at the Falcons Training Complex. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Falcons WR Russell Gage (ankle) is week-to-week

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Russell Gage is week-to-week with an ankle injury.

Falcons head coach Arthur Smith said Wednesday Gage will be very limited this week and has a small chance of playing in Week 3 against the New York Giants (0-2).

Starting cornerback A.J. Terrell’s status this Sunday also is in doubt with a concussion. He left last Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay.

Gage was held without a catch in Week 1 and hauled in five passes for 28 yards last week.

Terrell has nine tackles and two passes defensed in two starts.

The Falcons are 0-2.

–Field Level Media

Sep 13, 2020; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell (24) covers Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett (16) during the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Falcons activate CB Terrell from reserve/COVID-19 list

Atlanta Falcons rookie cornerback A.J. Terrell has been activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list, the team announced Thursday.

Terrell was placed on the list prior to the Falcons’ game against the Chicago Bears in Week 3.

The 22-year-old was the first NFL player to miss a game this season due to the coronavirus. He also sat out Atlanta’s 30-16 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Monday.

Terrell was the 16th overall pick in the draft out of Clemson. He started the first two games of the season and registered 11 tackles and one quarterback hit.

The Falcons (0-4) likely will welcome Terrell’s return after placing fellow cornerback Darqueze Dennard and safety Damontae Kazee on injured reserve the last two weeks.

The NFC South-rival Carolina Panthers (2-2) visit Atlanta on Sunday (1 p.m. ET).

–Field Level Media

Sep 13, 2020; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell (24) covers Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett (16) during the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Falcons place CB Terrell on reserve/COVID-19 list

The Atlanta Falcons placed starting cornerback A.J. Terrell on the reserve/COVID-19 list Saturday.

The 2020 first-round draft pick will miss Sunday’s home game against the Chicago Bears. He will become the first NFL player to miss a game this season due to the coronavirus.

Terrell’s positive test was taken Friday morning and he practiced with the Falcons that day, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

“Now immediate contact tracing goes into effect, per league protocols, but the Falcons have not gotten any other positive test results,” Schefter posted on Twitter.

Terrell, who turned 22 on Tuesday, was the 16th overall pick in the draft out of Clemson. He started the first two games for Atlanta (0-2) and registered 11 tackles and one quarterback hit.

It’s another blow to a Falcons secondary that is already missing cornerback Kendall Sheffield (foot) and safety Ricardo Allen (elbow), who were both ruled out Friday.

Atlanta elevated cornerbacks Tyler Hall and Delrick Abrams from the practice squad and also promoted linebacker Edmond Robinson as a COVID-19 replacement for Sunday’s game with the Bears (2-0).

–Field Level Media