SAN DIEGO — Atlanta came into Sunday’s game as the NFL’s leader in takeaways.
Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud single-handedly took it upon himself against the Chargers to keep it that way in Atlanta’s 27-3 victory at Qualcomm Stadium.
DeCoud recovered a second-quarter fumble and he added two interceptions — including one in the second quarter that required replay before he was rewarded.
The effort — along with a fumble recovery by teammate William Moore — gave the Falcons 11 takeaways on the season. Four of them are compliments of DeCoud, who also had an interception against Denver quarterback Peyton Manning.
“That’s one of the things William and I have taken to heart as safeties, especially in this new system,” said DeCoud. “You’ve got to get the ball back, and we have a lot of opportunities to do that. It’s evident in our play right now.”
DeCoud’s fumble recovery came at a crucial moment, with the Chargers driving for a potential go-ahead score early in the second quarter. Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon separated San Diego running back Ryan Mathews from the ball and DeCoud was there to jump on it — with the Chargers just three yards from the end zone. Atlanta took it the other way with a nearly eight-minute touchdown drive that shaped the remainder of the game.
“They put a pretty nice drive together,” said DeCoud. “They were moving the ball a little bit. We pride ourselves on our red zone defense, made a play, got it out and got the ball… . If they get down there, we’re going to stiffen up and hold them to three, at least not give them seven.”
DeCoud’s first interception came just after the two-minute warning in the second quarter when Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers tried to force a ball into tight end Antonio Gates.
“That’s just one you shouldn’t throw,” said Rivers. “It was one of those, ‘See if Gates can go up and out jump him.’ It wasn’t that he couldn’t. I didn’t really give him a chance to.”
DeCoud had inside position on the play, but the pass was initially ruled incomplete. Officials claimed DeCoud did not gain possession before going out of bounds. Replay suggested otherwise, the Falcons had the ball at San Diego’s 29 and less than a minute later they had a 20-0 lead.
Notable on the interception was how DeCoud grabbed the ball at his waist and brought it up toward his head, pinning it against his helmet. It brought to mind David Tyree’s famous catch for the Giants in Super Bowl XLII, under, of course, somewhat less dramatic circumstances.
“Yeah, I saw [Tyree’s catch] on film and worked on it in the offseason,” DeCoud joked.
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