FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons coach Dan Quinn got just the finish he was looking for in a last-minute win over Green Bay.
With a short turnaround this week before Thursday’s divisional showdown at Tampa Bay, Atlanta (5-3) earned the kind of tight victory Quinn relishes.
“When you come through in those, for sure it gives you something,” Quinn said Monday. “To get the job done yesterday was significant.”
Quinn likes that it’s not just quarterback Matt Ryan, receiver Julio Jones and cornerback Desmond Trufant, the team’s most talented defender, making plays this year.
After starting last year 6-1 and missing the playoffs in Quinn’s first season, Atlanta is getting contributions from unexpected sources like receiver Taylor Gabriel, tight end Austin Hooper and veteran safety Kemal Ishmael.
Two veterans, receiver Mohamed Sanu and defensive end Adrian Clayborn, stepped up in Sunday’s 33-32 win over Green Bay to fill big roles.
Sanu, whom the Falcons signed early in the free agency, caught the winning touchdown pass as the Packers double-teamed Jones, the NFL’s leading receiver at kickoff, on seemingly every snap.
Jones tweaked his knee early in the game and was targeted just five times, catching three passes for 29 yards, but he freed up Sanu, Gabriel, Hooper and others to get free in man-to-man matchups.
Sanu was targeted 10 times and finished with a team-high nine catches, five on the winning drive, for 84 yards.
“For a guy with his size to have that kind of catching radius — Matt can put it away from a defender — he’ll go get it,” Quinn said. “That totally shows up. We’ve thrown some screens to him where he has to lower his shoulder and become a runner to earn some extra yards after contact. I like that part of his game as well.”
Clayborn had a third-down sack in the third quarter and another early in the fourth. The Packers had to punt from midfield both times.
Gabriel, a second-year veteran originally signed as a college free agent by Cleveland, caught a stunning 47-yard touchdown pass late in the first quarter.
Hooper, a third-round pick, took charge after starting tight end Jacob Tamme went down with a shoulder injury on the first possession. He caught all five of his targeted passes for 51 yards.
Ishmael, with a team-leading 50 tackles, filled in earlier this year for starting rookie safety Keanu Neal and played a couple of games at linebacker when Atlanta had injuries to De’Vondre Campbell, Deion Jones and Sean Weatherspoon.
Sanu said the players have bought in to Quinn’s message of resiliency.
“We were going back-and-forth, back-and-forth and once we had the ball with four minutes left, I was like, ‘We got to go down and score,’” Sanu said. “It was me and Julio on one side, and so I motioned out to where we were. But Julio ran outside and drew two guys and left me one-on-one with the linebacker.”
Notes: Jones was checked out by doctors and cleared to practice Monday. Quinn said he will be ready to start against Tampa Bay. … Tamme, the team’s fourth-leading receiver with 22 catches for 210 yards, will not play this week because of an injured shoulder. … RB Tevin Coleman (hamstring) and DE Dwight Freeney (quadriceps) did not practice. … Jones, LG Andy Levtire (foot), DT Grady Jarrett (shoulder) and CB Brian Poole (foot) were limited in practice. … Three of the Falcons’ seven penalties came in the first half for an illegal formation as Gabriel, RT Ryan Schraeder and Jones were flagged. Quinn said the officials penalized Atlanta for “covering up the receiver” at the line of scrimmage. “We just backed our tight end up more,” he said. “They were treating it as a shift and it was a motion. More of a procedural call for them.”