The first week of the season presented a tough challenge on the road against a division foe.
We knew that New Orleans was going to be very emotional and play with a lot of passion. We also knew it was going to be loud, especially with the return of Coach Payton to the sidelines for the Saints. I have heard that stadium as loud as it was last Sunday before, but the difference was in the level of passion that the fans displayed.
It was just one of those things where you could tell it’s a true bitter rivalry and they were going to do whatever they needed to — especially when the Saints were down — to get their team back in the fight and get them in the game to take the lead.
Our goal was to go in there and try to take the crowd out of it right away, establish a lead and sustain it. We were able to get a lead pretty fast, but New Orleans was very resilient and did a good job of coming back and making plays.
Once the game got into those final minutes, you could actually feel the tension in the crowd. The fans were very into the game, on the edge of their seats, kind of like one of those nail-biters. It boiled down to who was making plays at crucial times in the game. New Orleans did that for sure.
MUCH RESPECT TO RODDY
Prior to the game, one of my teammates, Roddy White, had a tough decision to make.
Roddy has been dealing with an ankle injury for a few weeks and he decided to suit up and give it his all on Sunday. He has a great deal of respect from me because I know how hard that decision is. Do you sit out an extra week and possibly be over your injury or do you gut it out and try to be a difference maker on the field?
When you make a decision like that, you’re not thinking about yourself. You’re thinking about being on the football field and in the huddle with your teammates, knowing everyone is getting ready to go out there and battle at the highest level.
You tell yourself you can be a difference maker because if you don’t play and the team loses the game, you’ll question whether if you played maybe we win. And if you do play, it’s because you feel like you can be that difference maker and make a play that no one else can make.
Every person is different. Some people are able to play through injuries and some people are not. It’s something where you have to understand your own threshold for pain and the ability to tolerate it.
Roddy is a team first player. He so badly wanted to be out on the field with us and compete to try and get the win against New Orleans that he was willing to go out there and play hurt. I have a ton of respect for him for the decision he made.
IN THE FILM ROOM
It was tough to lose that game on Sunday, but after looking at the film, there are definitely things we can learn from that experience.
We have to make sure that as an offense, we keep ourselves out of second and third and long, especially third and long. I think we had five or six possessions where we had 3rd and 11 or more. There just aren’t many plays in the playbook that you can call to get that done.
We have to make sure in run down situations and passing down situations that we’re executing for one, but also putting ourselves in position to have more manageable third downs.
When you’re not able to sustain a drive, it’s definitely something that works against you. A long drive can give your defense rest and keep someone like Drew Brees on the sideline. Sometimes the best defense is a good offense. At times in the game, we definitely showed that and at other times when we had a couple three-and-outs, it just didn’t give our defense enough time.
It also allowed for the New Orleans defense to go back to the sideline. They could see some of the things that they adjusted in their defensive game plan were actually working against us, and they built off that.
Along those same lines, we have to make sure that we’re good in the penalty area. We played clean football for the most part, and there weren’t a lot of penalties. But when you have a penalty or a turnover during a drive, it really can kill the momentum that you’ve built during the game.
AIR AND GROUND
We didn’t play our best game on Sunday. When we watched the film, we could see that we could have done some things in the running game that would have resulted in a few more explosive runs.
But overall, I was very pleased with the way we were able to move the ball on the ground. For our first game out against a good team, I’m happy with what we did and the passion we played with. It’s definitely something to build off and I’m encouraged by it.
One explosive run we were able to get allowed me to go for 50 yards and almost score a touchdown. That particular run allows me to have a lead blocker at fullback. When we snapped the ball, the motion of the play started off going to the left.
The Saints defense is very athletic, but I kind of used it against them on that play. Their linebackers probably anticipated me bouncing it to the outside left. Instead, I cut it back behind the flow and was able to get to the second level.
I made a couple guys miss as I ran down the field and I knew from there it was going to be a race to the pylon. You routinely see on film guys pursuing from the backside, taking great angles and naturally they have outstanding speed because they are defensive backs after all. I was just hoping I could win that race to the pylon before they were able to get me down. Though I didn’t, I’m glad we were able to finish the drive with a touchdown a few plays later.
In addition to that run, I was able to be very active in the passing game, not only pass protecting but catching the ball out of the backfield. Matt trusts in me and he knows if he needs to check the ball down, I’ll be where I need to be and I have a dependable skill set to get the job done.
Though I had some rough moments, it’s done a great deal for me confidence-wise to know that I’m going to be used strongly in that area. It’s something that we had success with on Sunday, so we have to keep going to it. I’ve got to keep practicing it as well.
AN ALL-TIME GREAT
When it comes to pass catching, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how cool it was to play my first game with Tony Gonzalez on Sunday.
It’s amazing to play with a guy who is that special. He’s talented, but he doesn’t present himself in a way that he’s above anything. He still works very hard at his craft, and continues to study the playbook to make sure he’s on top of his game.
Although he had a limited training camp, he came out there on Sunday and played some great football. He’s in his 17th year in the NFL and he’s still getting the job done.
To be able to share the huddle with him, to see him execute and compete in a game, it was great to be a part of. He’s probably the greatest tight end who has ever played this game, and you can see why when he takes the field.
Tony and I have a lot of similarities. He’s a person who is very passionate about culture and travel like myself, and he loves the game of football. He also knows what it’s like to have to shoulder the load of being the face of a franchise from his time in Kansas City. Our walk in football from that aspect is very similar.
So when it came to coming here and joining the Falcons, he probably knew the pressure I was under making that decision — whether to stay where I started or go somewhere else — better than anyone.
SUNDAY AGAINST ST.LOUIS
That decision is going to be front and center as we take on my former team, the Rams, on Sunday in Atlanta. I’m sure it’s going to be an emotional game for me.
I’ll be playing against guys who I view as little brothers. Everyone on that team who was there before the draft and free agency this year, I know their beginnings, how they got to St. Louis.
I’m still in touch with a lot of those guys, but we talk more about life then we do about football. Those guys have been great to me. No one is looking at it thinking that since I’m gone from St. Louis, we don’t have to keep in contact. They understand what the situation was, and they’ve been class about it all the way. To compete against guys I know that well, I’ll have to be prepared mentally to go out there and play a tough game.
It’s going to be fun. Anybody that has a sibling knows you don’t want to lose to your sibling. You want to get the best of them. At the same time, you know they don’t want to lose either. Nobody who plays in that game is going to want to succumb to a loss. It’s especially crucial for us because we’re at home now.
We have to come out, defend the home dome and stop the streak at one. We don’t want to lose more than one game in a row at any point.
That said, it being my first regular season home game in Atlanta, I want to come out and leave a great impression. You only get one chance to leave a first impression and this is going to be that opportunity for me. I want to go out there and show the Atlanta Falcons fans and everyone who will be watching that I’m still very much the running back that I have been over the years, someone who plays with passion and a love for the game. We’re going to have some good times here in Atlanta, starting this Sunday and going through the rest of the season.
I will go into this game with the mindset of being completely focused and leaving a great first impression for Falcons fans. I can’t give it any more emotion than I’m sure that I will already feel on Sunday. I just have to go out there and be who I am. When I play calm and collected, that’s when I’m at my best.