At the age of 34, in his 13th NFL season, in the 171st game of his career, after the generally mandated assortment of groin, ankle, back, shoulder, head and who-knew-I-even-had-a-body-part-there ailments, John Abraham made a play. Actually, he made the play. Again.
The Falcons were leading New Orleans 20-13 in the fourth quarter last Thursday on national television. The Saints had the ball, driving toward a possible tying score. But on third down from the Atlanta 36, Abraham — looking as if he had just been drinking from the Fountain of Red Bull — flew around the left corner, leaving Saints tackle Zach Strief spinning like a weather vane, and buried quarterback Drew Brees for a sack.
End of touchdown threat. End of field-goal threat.
Soon, end of Saints.
“He’s no different for us than Ray Lewis (is for Baltimore),” teammate Jonathan Babineaux said Wednesday. “Ray Lewis is dominant. He does everything for his defense. Abe comes through in the clutch when we need him to. He gets the quarterback. It’s what he’s been doing his entire professional life.”
If we can put aside for a moment all of the flaws that people seem to find in this 11-1 football team – and let that digest for a minute – consider the accomplishments of one player that everybody seems to agree on.
Abraham’s sack of Brees was the 122nd of his career and his 10th in 12 games this season (the seventh time in his career he has mugged in double digits). He remains one of the NFL’s more productive pass rushers and one of the few defensive players that opponents actually have to scheme against, this because the Falcons have failed to find a reasonable threat to book end the other side of the defensive line.
“It’s not a big deal,” Abraham said when asked about carrying the bulk of pass-rush responsibilities. “Since I’ve been in the league, I’ve been the main pass rusher on the team, so I’m used to it. It’s like Michael Jordan had Scottie Pippen. I’m just used to being the person who’s going to take the last shot.”
Linebacker Mike Peterson suspects Abraham actually prefers it this way: “You can look at it one of two ways. Are they bringing in a guy to help you on the other side, or are they bringing in a guy to replace you? I think he appreciates being that guy.”
It’s a fair point. If Edwards hadn’t flat-lined from the moment he was signed, the Falcons might not have felt as desperate to re-sign Abraham before this season.
As it is, they got a bargain. Abraham certainly could’ve signed for more than what the Falcons gave him: three years, $16.72 million, only $2.25 million guaranteed. Tennessee was among the pursuers. But Abraham chose to stay for a couple of reasons. He didn’t want to start over with another team. He also wanted to play for new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, who was the New York Jets’ coordinator during Abraham’s rookie season.
“I didn’t want to go some place and end up not liking where I was playing,” he said. “At the end of your career, you want to feel comfortable. I talked to a couple of teams, but my main thing was to get back here and not go some place else just for the money. It makes a lot of sense now, with the way the season is going.”
Abraham struggled with a groin strain for much of last season. He still had 9½ sacks.
Nolan has moved him around. He told Abraham he didn’t care if the player stood up or put his hand in the dirt. “As long as I get the job done,” Abraham said.
Falcons offensive tackle Tyson Clabo has a special appreciation for what Abraham is doing at his age. He makes his living trying to block guys.
“He has the ability to deal with the noise and get off on the snap count,” Clabo said. “As the game goes along, he gets into a rhythm, and he understands the other team’s cadence. And he still has the speed to turn the corner.”
This week, the Falcons play Carolina. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has been sacked 30 times, among the most-abused passers in the league.
Somebody just rang the lunch bell.
By Jeff Schultz