There's a lot riding on tomorrow's game for the Falcons, a team with a lot of young guys on the roster who haven't been in the position of fighting for a playoff spot before this season. It's fundamentally important for young players and veterans to maintain optimum focus heading into tomorrow's game.
Several young players told me that the veterans are stepping up to help the young players understand that this isn't just any other game and that preparation has to be impeccable. Rookie center James Stone said the veterans have been a big help. "I feel like they just continue to be supportive every day," Stone said, "and make sure that we all stay on our toes and we don't ever get complacent."
Second-year safety Kemal Ishmael says that the veterans have helped the young players understand what to expect on Sunday. "Just telling us how important it is," Ishmael said. "We're in a whole different mindset right now, like guys talk about the playoffs are - it's fun. I mean, I don't know how it's fun. It's just football again. But to them it's something totally different, so I want to experience it with them and get through it."
Rookie Ricardo Allen, eager for a shot after his recent activation from the practice squad to the 53-man roster, echoed Ishmael in that the veteran players and coaching staff have tried to help young players understand what to expect on Sunday as well as prepare them for it in a practical way. "They always tell us because it's a rivalry game, it going to be really amped up, so just focus on your plan. Just stay focused on your plan," Allen said. "They keep the music out blaring outside, and they just tell us, don't worry about everybody just saying stuff, because they're going to be yelling and there's going to be a bunch of trash talking. Just stay on the point."
Rookie running back Devonta Freeman sees every game as a big game, and he thinks that at this point in the season, the rookies have caught up to the veterans in terms of understanding how they need to prepare each week. "I feel like all of us are the same. We get it. We're bought in," Freeman said. "Even though we're struggling right now, we expect the team to buy in every day to what Coach is saying."
Running back Jacquizz Rodgers is still a young player, but he's a veteran in terms of playoff experience. Rodgers said that the veterans have been helping young players along all season. "As a team, I think we do a great job of getting focused. Guys go out there and prepare," Rodgers said. "This whole year, all the guys have been bringing the younger guys up, teaching them and showing them the ropes the whole year, so they know what to expect. They know what's on the line, also."
Dwight Lowery said that leading by example is the best thing veterans can do for the younger players. "We lead just by example. We try to bring the young guys along, but there comes a certain point in time, I think, where you've got to experience it yourself in order to really understand it," Lowery said.
Lowery also said that, to an extent, these big game scenarios are just something the young players have to experience in order to fully understand the importance of it. "It's like you have a kid and you try to tell him not to do something, you know, naturally the kid wants to do the opposite," Lowery said. "I mean, not that drastic, but it's similar. They just have to experience it themselves and hopefully they'll be able to rise to the occasion, so to speak, and understand the importance of the game."
Defensive tackle Corey Peters also told me that leading by example is the best way to help the young players stay focused down the stretch. "Well, I think that we've just got to kind of lead by example. I think everybody knows what's at stake for this game," Peters said. "We have always looked at division games as more important, because it's somewhat of a game and a half. So even at the beginning of the season, when everybody's 0-0, we always talk about the importance of playing well in the division and then in the NFC. So we've just got to try to lead by example, and they'll be fine."
Roddy said the vets are doing what they can to keep the young guys focused, but that young players and veterans alike are very dialed in this week. "When you get to do or die, it seems like everybody's a lot more locked in," White said. "You know, everybody's paying a lot more attention and detail and things like that, and as a veteran, you just keep kind of drumming those guys and just keep telling them, these are the playoffs, even though these are regular season games."
There's a lot at stake this week, and White said preparation is key for everyone in the locker room. "Our playoff hopes are on the line right here," White said, "and we just keep drumming them, week in, week out, just telling them, spend a little extra time in your books, do what you've got to do for conditioning or whatever it is for you to get better this week. That's what you need to do. "