FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- To put it simply, it was an embarrassment for every Atlanta Falcons player involved.
Late in the fourth quarter of last year's 23-19 loss at Tampa Bay, defenders watched Buccaneers rookie quarterback Jameis Winston keep a play alive they thought was dead on third-and-19 from the Falcons' 43-yard line. Winston scrambled up the middle, maintained his balance after being hit by Paul Worrilow and Brooks Reed, bounced off a few more weak tackle attempts, and scrambled for 20 yards. Adrian Clayborn and Vic Beasley Jr. were two Falcons who appeared to stop while thinking Winston was down.
The play sustained a drive that ended with Winston's game-winning, 6-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans.
"No doubt, that's a play that will kind of make you sick when you watch it," Worrilow said.
Falcons defensive coordinator Richard Smith echoed those thoughts.
"First of all, that was a play that you can still see very vividly in your mind," Smith said. "It was very disappointing. It wasn't like us. Hopefully, we'll be able to correct that kind of play."
Winston reflected on the play and brushed it off as nothing out of the ordinary.
"That's just pure passion," he said. "That's all that was."
The lesson for the Falcons, as has been the focus ever since Dan Quinn took over as head coach, is to wrap up and take the runner to the ground. Tackling continues to be Quinn's big emphasis as he tries to remake what has been a porous defense. The film says it all.
"They've definitely seen some plays that are uncomfortable," Quinn said.
Was the Winston play part of the reel?
"That was uncomfortable, so yes," Quinn responded.
There were too many games with double-digit missed tackles last season. Quinn hopes part of the solution is having more speed on the field with rookie inside linebackers Deion Jones and De'Vondre Campbell named the starters. Rookie strong safety Keanu Neal, the team's first-round pick, is a heavy hitter, but is out for at least the opener after having arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. (He'll be replaced by Kemal Ishmael). The starting free safety, Ricardo Allen, was the guy Quinn called the team's best tackler last season. Allen was the guy who finally got Winston to the ground on last season's play.
All-around, the Falcons have to be sure tacklers come Sunday. Winston is lighter and could be more elusive. Running back Doug Martin, who rushed for 1,402 yards last season and averaged 4.9 yards per carry, is tough to bring down. Backup running back Charles Sims, who also averaged 4.9 yards per carry, is no slouch, either.
The Falcons can ill-afford to allow Winston to extend plays. Such could be the recipe for a disaster after being swept by Winston and the Buccaneers last season.
"He's a guy who finishes plays as a quarterback, and you have to treat him like a running back when he's in the open field," Worrilow said of Winston. "Is he going to slide? You just have to treat him like any other ball-carrier."