By Michael Cunningham
Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud gave the defense a “B-minus” for its performance against the Raiders on Sunday.
If that’s the case, two high marks in the second half allowed the unit to pull through with a passing grade after some failures.
Defensive end John Abraham’s sack and forced fumble led to a field goal and cornerback Asante Samuel returned an interception 79 yards for a touchdown. Those big plays allowed Atlanta’s defense to come after Oakland’s offense had played at a higher level than its lackluster rankings.
“It wasn’t pretty,” Samuel said. “Really ugly, especially the first half. We all realize that. We started off bad but we bounced back in the second half. That’s the sign of a champion. You’ve got to do whatever it takes to win.”
With their offense misfiring, the Falcons needed their defense to set up easy points. Abraham and Samuel came through.
In the third quarter Abraham got to Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer and knocked the ball loose at Oakland’s 28-yard line. Teammate Ray Edwards scooped it up and ran to the two-yard line.
“I just hope I get a chance one-on-one,” said Abraham, who finished with three sacks while also drawing a handful of holding penalties. “And when I get one-on-one I’ve got to win.”
The ensuing field goal tied the game at 13-13 and the Raiders were driving for a potential winning score in the fourth quarter. With less than three minutes left, Samuel stepped in front of wide receiver Denarius Moore and intercepted Palmer’s pass and took it for the touchdown.
Those plays offset what had been a frustrating day for Atlanta’s defense, especially in the first half.
Late in the first quarter Raiders receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey ran 20 yards on third down, shaking Abraham on an end-around, to set up a field goal. Falcons linebacker Mike Peterson missed a tackle at the 17-yard line on Moore’s 25-yard touchdown catch that gave Oakland a 13-7 halftime lead.
“The big plays we gave up it wasn’t anything particularly they did,” Falcons safety Dunta Robinson said. “It was busts on our end. In the first half we had a lot of ‘my bads’ and we can’t play that way. They played tough, man.”
Atlanta’s defense stiffened in the second half but still allowed some key gains. After Samuel’s touchdown, the Raiders completed two 17-yard passes and converted a third-and-11 during an eight-play, two-minute drive that tied the game again.
“We let them out of a few situations,” DeCoud said. “We missed a few tackles here and there, me included. (To still win) is a testament to our resiliency and our ability to play together as a team.”
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