One of the best quotes of the season came via the mouth of Falcons linebacker Curtis Lofton.
On a day when many in the locker room were vocally frustrated about the lack of Pro Bowl nominations (no Falcons will go to the game), Lofton spoke simply and in a soft — but forceful — tone.
“My season speaks for itself,” he said. “Just because you don’t go to the Pro Bowl doesn’t mean you didn’t have a good season.”
Lofton — one of seven linebackers currently on the Falcons roster — certainly had a season worthy of Pro Bowl consideration. He finished sixth in the NFL in tackles. Falcons coaches credited him with a team-high 160 stops. He also had four tackles for loss, a quarterback hit, two pass defensed and a pair of forced fumbles.
He was also General Manager Thomas Dimitroff’s selection as defensive MVP.
“Defensively, I thought Curtis Lofton had a heck of a season,” the third-year general manager said. “He was consistent day in and day out. He got better at stepping up into the hole, as well as his ability to play the pass continued to improve. He was slowed down a little bit by some nagging little injuries, and I think he’ll take it to another level next year as well.”
Maybe it was how the Falcons defense played as a whole that doomed Lofton in the Pro Bowl vote.
The team started 2009 with five new starters on that side of the ball and finished strong (eight turnovers and two touchdowns allowed in the last three games) but still gave up more than 240 passing yards and more than 100 rushing yards per game.
Two of those five new starters (Stephen Nicholas and Mike Peterson) started next to Lofton, so let’s break down the play of the linebackers and their role in the defense.
Here’s a look at the linebackers that finished the year on the Falcons roster, including the practice squad and injured reserve…
Coy Wire: Voted the Falcons special teams captain for 2009 and was again a vital rotational/situational player on defense. Wire had nine special teams tackles. He also had 14 tackles, two quarterback hits, one pass defensed, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries on defense.
Mike Peterson: In his first season in Atlanta, Peterson racked up 140 tackles, an interception, sack, six passes defensed and a pair of forced fumbles. He was also voted a defensive captain.
Stephen Nicholas: In his first season as a full-time starter, Nicholas totaled 82 tackles, three sacks, four tackles for loss, four quarterback hits, a pair of passes defensed and a forced fumble and fumble recovery. His name was often lost on the stat sheet but, as a strong-side linebacker, he was a key part of the Falcons run-stopping success. The team allowed just one 100-yard rusher in 2009.
Curtis Lofton: His numbers are listed at the top of the post. His role as a team leader and ability to play through pain aren’t easily tracked.
Robert James: Missed his rookie year in 2008 with a concussion but returned for a spot on the team’s practice squad. He was promoted to the active roster for the final game of the year.
Tony Gilbert: One of 11 players that ended the season on injured reserve. Gilbert backed up Lofton at middle linebacker for much of the season. He also had an interception returned for a touchdown in the preseason.
Spencer Adkins: A selection in the team’s 2009 Draft class, Adkins evolved from pass rusher in college to more of an all-around, special teams ace as a rookie in the NFL. He had three special teams tackles and his name appeared more in the stat sheet — and the message boards — as the season went along.
Now it’s your turn…