Desmond Trufant is calling this year his “comeback season.” Atlanta’s top cornerback landed on injured reserve last year with a shoulder injury. If the Falcons’ home opener was any indication, Trufant is back in a big way.
It’s not easy to force Aaron Rodgers into mistakes, but the Falcons did, on a Trufant pick and a scoop-and-score that helped seal the Falcons’ win.
“Which one? Yeah, there were so many,” Trufant joked when asked about the turnovers.
Trufant stood out on a young defense that harassed Rodgers all night long. His interception put Atlanta in a position to extend its lead to 24-7 just before the half.
“I knew they were backed up, so they take shots, and they hadn’t taken one on me yet,” Trufant said after the game. “So I knew it was coming eventually, so I just turned around. I was I great position, and he threw me the ball.”
When play resumed in the third quarter, it took Trufant less than a minute to make another game-changing play. Rodgers threw a backward pass, and Trufant picked it up and ran it into the end zone, giving the Falcons a 31-7 advantage.
Trufant won’t take all the credit for that play.
“And the fumble, Vic (Beasley) made a great play,” Trufant said. “I just scooped and scored, and it was just exciting.”
Trufant’s teammates describe how he picked off Rodgers
Rodgers threw just seven picks through all of last season. But Trufant did exactly what he’s coached to do, and it worked.
The pass was intended for Geronimo Allison, who was just added to the Packers’ active roster this week after serving a one-game suspension. Rodgers let it fly, and whether there was a miscommunication or it was overthrown, Allison was not where he needed to be to make this play.
Trufant was. He tracked the ball right into his hands.
Glad to have you back, TRUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU. pic.twitter.com/eU8IgHOOge— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) September 18, 2017
His teammate and fellow cornerback Robert Alford told SB Nation what he saw unfold.
“On the deep ball, I was on my man,” Alford said. “I turned around and I just saw that the ball was overthrown and that he caught it.”
Ricardo Allen, the Falcons’ starting free safety, described his thoughts on the play.
“We’ve been getting pressure the whole night,” Allen said. “The defensive line has been killing. So I guess [Rodgers] was trying to get the ball out of his hands, and he went at one of the wrong ones, I think.”
Strong safety Keanu Neal agreed that the pass rush worked in tandem with good coverage to pressure Rodgers into a rare turnover.
“On the pick, Tru stayed on top and made a play,” Neal said. “And on the pressure, Vic got in there and caused a fumble, and Tru was there to make a play. So at the end of the day, it’s coming together and playing as one, and we did that.”
Second-year linebackers Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell were not surprised.
“He’s just playing fast, being Tru, making plays that he worked hard to get. And he’s real instinctive, man,” Jones said.
“So you kind of anticipate plays like that from him,” Campbell added.
Trufant listened to Dan Quinn on the scoop-and-score
The amazing thing about Trufant’s fumble recovery that he ran back for a touchdown is that it’s hard to tell in real time if the play was a backward pass. If it was — and the officials decided that was the case — then either team could recover it and advance it. Trufant grabbed it and advanced it right into the end zone.
Rodgers had Vic Beasley and Dontari Poe bearing down on him, and Atlanta’s coverage was airtight. Rodgers had nowhere to go with the ball, and the Falcons took advantage.
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/dl9CyJ4DS3— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) September 18, 2017
“Vic got the ball out and made a hell of a play,” Trufant said. “And coaches, they always tell us to scoop and score, no matter what. And so I just picked it up and had to go back to running back mode for a split second.”
Alford saw Trufant living up to the standards Quinn preaches.
“That’s what Coach Quinn preaches about is, coming into today’s game. Just getting turnovers and try to get a score,” Alford said. “Desmond did all of them like Coach Quinn wanted.”
Neal noted that it was a team effort.
“We just played together. We played as one,” Neal said. “The defensive line got pressure, and on the back end, we stayed on top.”
And Allen said the secondary maintained coverage and gave the pass rush a chance to get to Rodgers.
“We ended up doing pretty good in the back end, and (Rodgers) had to come to his second and third read,” Allen said. “So he ended up trying to transition and go back to the backside, and Vic ended up making a pretty good hit on him. And I guess he threw the ball backwards.”
Allen was thrilled to get a defensive score.
“We always talk about it on defense. Let’s score on defense,” Allen said. “Our offense is really good, so we’re like, shoot. We’re going to try to get some scores over here, too. So Tru ended up doing that.”
Trufant earned Sunday Night Football player of the game honors for his performance against Rodgers.
“So it was a big moment for me,” Trufant said. “It was great, and I’ve got to keep pushing it.”
Trufant looked a little rusty in Week 1 against the Bears. It was his first time back on the field for regular-season action since November of last year.
But there was no rust on Sunday against the Packers. And Trufant has his sights set even higher.
“I feel like I’m just tapping what I could do, my potential, and I’ve got a great supporting cast around me, and I’m just trying to be one of the best,” Trufant said.
Sunday night, against one of the best quarterbacks in the game, was a good start.