Someday soon, when the dust settles after the Super Bowl, we’ll need to take full stock of this team as perhaps the most remarkable Falcons squad anyone has ever seen. While we wait for the game, though, we can still marvel at what they’ve done.
A big part of that is the team’s ability to overcome injuries. The Falcons lost one of their brightest stars, two quality starters, and one of their top reserves and special teamers, and they didn’t slow down at all. Here’s a look back.
CB Desmond Trufant
This was the biggest, most crushing loss of all, and yet it’s also the one that the Falcons seem to have weathered the best. When Trufant went down in the Week 9 win over the Buccaneers, the team was not immediately clear on whether he’d be out for a while. They suggested that he might even be back in a week or two, but then wound up shutting him down for the year in Week 11.
That elevated Robert Alford to the top spot in the team’s cornerback corps, where he’s played extremely well, and forced Jalen Collins into a larger role. Between Alford’s excellence, Collins’ rapid improvement, and Brian Poole’s strong play all year as the nickel cornerback, the Falcons have managed to weather the storm quite well. They’ll miss him in the Super Bowl against the Patriots, but I’ve been legitimately impressed with the Falcons secondary minus one of the 10 or so best corners on the planet.
DE/DT Derrick Shelby
Shelby got off to a horrifically slow start in Atlanta, looking less than stellar in preseason and in the early part of the season before coming on a bit in late September and early October. He was expected to be a key piece of the defensive line rotation for the Falcons, and when they lost him for the year with a torn Achilles in mid-October, the line took a real hit.
The Falcons certainly missed Shelby at times this season when they couldn’t gin up much of a pass rush and struggled against the run, both areas the veteran is useful in
TE Jacob Tamme
The most hated man in America was also a solid pass catching option for the Falcons, providing a steady target on short routes and over the middle when Matt Ryan was in a jam.
Without him around, the Falcons leaned more heavily on Austin Hooper and Levine Toilolo, both of whom stepped up. The emergence of Taylor Gabriel and this team’s multi-faceted receiving corps made things even better.
S Kemal Ishmael
One of the team’s greatest late-round picks ever, Ishmael has been a steady presence in the secondary as a big play making, big hit delivering safety who can start in a pinch. The Falcons losing him has been a pretty big deal on special teams, where they’ve clearly missed his tackling, but Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen have been remarkably durable of late.
Every team deals with injuries—the Patriots lost Rob Gronkowski, which is a massive, lingering blow to their offense—but it’s notable that a team many of us thought wasn’t deep enough to contend this year could lose so many contributors and power all the way to the Super Bowl. Just one more to go.