Clayborn, others step up big when Atlanta needs win the most

ATLANTA — Ask around the Atlanta Falcons‘ locker room about what type of leader Adrian Clayborn is, and most will tell you the veteran defensive end quietly goes about his business and leads by example.

Sunday was the perfect demonstration of the relentless, workhorse mentality folks see from Clayborn on a daily basis. He set a franchise record with six sacks, topping the previous record of five shared by Hall of Famer Claude Humphrey and pass-rush guru Chuck Smith. And Clayborn’s inspired effort gave the Falcons a little extra juice on a day they needed a boost and a win.

Clayborn, who also forced two fumbles, was the game’s MVP for his effort, which included constantly abusing Dallas Cowboys left tackle Chaz Green as Green filled in for injured All-Pro Tyron Smith. Then Clayborn got a couple on Byron Bell.

But Clayborn and the Falcons had help from unheralded players just like himself in a 27-7 triumph.

Like wide receiver Taylor Gabriel, who picked up some big third downs. Like receiver Justin Hardy, who had a key touchdown. Like running back Tevin Coleman, who scored a touchdown on a day where his tag-team partner, starter Devonta Freeman, got knocked out the game with a concussion.

Let’s not forget about defensive tackle Dontari Poe, who got shifted over to offense in the goal-line package and cleared a hole for Coleman’s touchdown. It’s the same contribution from Poe that folks in Kansas City became accustomed to when he played for the Chiefs.

Oh, yeah, the usual suspects showed up, too. Matt Ryan completed just about every pass he threw in the second half. Julio Jones, who entered the game off an ankle injury, made one of those incredible catches only he could make. But it was the overall team effort that helped put the Falcons back in the win column after dropping the previous two games at home.

Now the Falcons, at 5-4, have a little momentum to start the second half of the season. They need it with New Orleans streaking in the NFC South with seven wins in a row and a 7-2 record. And 6-3 Carolina, which beat the Falcons a week ago, doesn’t play until Monday night.

The Falcons knew they had two tough NFC matchups over the next two games, with the Cowboys coming to town and a visit to Seattle next on the schedule. Can they sustain the momentum? Getting Freeman back healthy will be key, although Coleman is very capable. But more than anything, they need a strong collective effort from everyone on the roster.

Sunday’s showing was what coach Dan Quinn has preached all season about being a tough outfit. Clayborn simply made the Falcons look that much tougher.

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