FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Atlanta cornerback Asante Samuel expects more balls to be thrown his way Sunday night when the Falcons play host to the New England Patriots and the cornerback’s former teammate Tom Brady.
“I’m kind of used to not getting too many balls my way,” Samuel said Thursday. “I’m sure my boy Brady will come at me.”
Samuel spent his first five NFL seasons with the Patriots and won two Super Bowls with New England from 2003-’07.
“We had a lot of battles,” Samuel said of Brady. “He loves to try to be perfect as possible, and the way he prepares every day is true professionalism. He has the total package.”
Many thought Atlanta had the total package entering the season, but the Falcons (1-2) are in unexpected territory after entering the season among Super Bowl favorites in the NFC.
The Patriots are 3-0, but Brady has been less potent than usual. He’s completing a career-low 57.5 percent of his passes for a modest 232.7 yards per game.
Earlier this week, Falcons coach Mike Smith lamented the soft pass coverage his defense played as the Miami Dolphins put together a 13-play, 75-yard, game-winning drive last Sunday.
New England’s beleaguered receiving corps may offer Atlanta defensive coordinator Mike Nolan opportunities to call more man-to-man and press coverages, although Smith said Thursday he anticipates the return of Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.
No matter who else suits up, the Falcons know better than to take Brady lightly.
“Some quarterbacks may need a yard or a half yard of separation to feel comfortable throwing the ball,” said Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud. “You could be draped all over (a receiver), and if he feels there’s enough space . . . the ball is coming.
“He puts it in the right place, and with his accuracy his confidence in his arm is incredible. You’re really not going to trick him very much.”
The Falcons start rookie cornerback Desmond Trufant, and undrafted rookie linebackers Paul Worrilow and Joplu Bartu also were on the field as Miami marched to victory.
They’re going to need to grow up fast.
“He’s very efficient. He’s very up-tempo. He’ll catch you on your heels. People are still lining up or getting the calls in, and he’s running a play,” Trufant said of Brady. “He’s seen it all . . . You’ve got to be on your Ps and Qs because he’ll expose you.”
Hopefully, Samuel has some inside secrets, although when asked about that Thursday he said that Brady, “has no tendencies.”
The Falcons cornerback has a tendency to intercept. After the Patriots drafted him in the fourth round in 2003, he started a streak that saw him become the only player in NFL history to return at least one interception for a touchdown in his first six seasons. His four postseason interception returns for touchdowns also are an NFL record.
Samuel has 50 career interceptions, a lot more if you count practice.
“He’s a dynamic playmaker; you still see it now,” Brady said in a Wednesday teleconference. “I’ve thrown more interceptions to Asante than probably anybody. He lets you know when he intercepts it, too.”
Thursday was the first time since training camp Samuel spoke with media. He had plenty of good things to say about Brady, and he’s offered young teammates advice.
“He reads coverages, he makes the right plays, he positions the balls correctly, he throws the deep ball,” Samuel said. “You just got to prepare, be ready for a guy . . . you’re going to play against one of the best, and the execution and tempo is going to be unbelievable so don’t be shocked.”
Notes: Falcons left tackle Sam Baker, who missed the Dolphins game with foot and knee injuries, and wide receiver Roddy Jones (ankle) returned to limited practice. Running back Stephen Jackson (hamstring) was the only player who did not participate. . . . Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez explained why he left the Dolphins game briefly. “I got my bell rung, like when you’re in a fight and you get hit in the sweet spot. It was not a concussion.”