By GEORGE HENRY, Associated Press
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Desmond Trufant is back to playing at full capacity for the Atlanta Falcons.
The 2015 Pro Bowl cornerback said he’s grateful now, but there were times last year when he wondered if he was a victim of bad luck.
Trufant tore his left pectoral in Week 9 at Tampa Bay and missed the rest of the season. He was on the outside looking in as his teammates finished 11-5, won the NFC championship game and blew the biggest lead in Super Bowl history.
It was the first time he felt totally helpless as a football player.
“At times we think that nothing can stop us, like we’re invincible and stuff like that,” Trufant told The Associated Press on Thursday. “But when it’s really taken away from you and you can’t do anything about it, it just put even more hunger in me to get back to the game.”
The rehab was grueling at first. Treatment, treatment, treatment. He wondered if it would ever end.
But Trufant showed in last week’s win over Green Bay that he’s still one of the NFL’s elite cornerbacks, diving for an interception that led to a first-half touchdown and returning a fumble early in the third quarter for his second career score .
When the Falcons (2-0) visit Detroit (2-0) this weekend, Trufant plans to step up his game again. The secondary will need another big performance with Atlanta missing its top pass rusher, Vic Beasley, to a hamstring injury.
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford leads an offense that’s averaging nearly 30 points a game, second-best in the NFC, but coach Dan Quinn has devised a scheme that makes it easy for Trufant to stay loose and trust his instincts.
“At the corner position, we don’t have too many responsibilities,” he said. “Just don’t give up the big plays, you know? Our front seven makes it easier for us. I’m playing with some great guys on the back end. We’re just out there having fun.”
There wasn’t much to enjoy in Trufant’s first two seasons with the Falcons. The former Washington standout was drafted 22nd overall in 2013, setting a rookie franchise record with 13 pass breakups, but Atlanta went 4-12 that year and followed with a 6-10 mark in ’14.
“We just had to fight through what we were going through. We had good players, we had a good team. We just weren’t getting the wins for whatever reasons. I just kept pushing, kept grinding, kept trying to get better.”
The grind of rehabbing his left shoulder was even harder. Trufant had to check his ego and let his body heal itself. The Falcons made his life much sweeter, though, signing Trufant five months ago to a five-year extension with nearly $42 million guaranteed.
“He does a lot of things that don’t show up on the stat sheet,” coach Dan Quinn said. “The work he puts in the offseason to get ready to play. That’s the thing. When you’re trying to become really good, that’s the kind of consistency you’re looking for.”
Trufant just wants to stay healthy. That’s his goal — anything to avoid hearing the same question that dogged him for the last eight months.
What was it like missing the Super Bowl?
“I can’t even count how many times I heard that,” Trufant said. “But it just wasn’t my time, you know? It definitely was a learning experience. I had to fight through the injury, get my strength and my rhythm back. It worked out for the best. I’m a better player now.”
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