Like most players, Ashley Ambrose sets personal goals before the start of every season. Unlike most players, Ambrose doesn't beat himself up when he falls short.
"I'd like to have double-digit interceptions every year," the Atlanta Falcons' right cornerback said in preparation for today's season opener at Green Bay (1 p.m., Fox-Ch. 54). "But I felt like I had a good year last year even though our defense struggled and I finished with something like five interceptions."
Signed in February 2000 to a five-year, $22.5 million contract as a free agent from New Orleans, Ambrose played most of his first year in Atlanta with a bruised sternum.
When the Falcons traveled to Green Bay last year, Ambrose had no picks through the first eight games, but he played a huge role in Atlanta's stunning 23-20 victory at Lambeau Field, intercepting Brett Favre twice.
The first pick - on the Packers' opening drive, set the tone of the game. Favre also lost a fumble and threw two more interceptions, the most important with 1:18 remaining. Ambrose jumped higher than receiver Bill Schroeder to pull down Favre's desperation pass from Atlanta's 45-yard line and picked it off in the end zone.
But other than upsetting the Packers, Ambrose took little satisfaction from last year. The Falcons finished 30th in pass defense, allowing 243.9 yards per game, and last in yards per play (6.1) and third-down efficiency (46.3).
Ambrose felt badly for Don Blackmon, a highly respected linebackers coach who was fired after his only season as a coordinator.
"The bottom line is that we're the ones getting paid to make the plays," Ambrose said. "You can have the best coaches in the world and if the players aren't making plays, then the outcome isn't going to be what you want."
Along with linebacker Keith Brooking, he is a defensive captain in 2002, but wants to improve on last year's effort. He finished with a career-high 55 solo tackles, five interceptions, one fumble recovery and seven passes defended.
He loves the new defense of first-year coordinator and longtime NFL veteran coach Wade Phillips - a 3-4 scheme that sends someone blitzing on most plays and is designed to make running backs run sideline to sideline by sending linebackers to the ball.
"If our defense is clicking, I shouldn't have that many tackles because that means I'm probably stopping guys after they've picked up some yards," Ambrose said. "But, you know, you hear this kind of stuff all the time, but I'm serious when I say I really don't care what kind of numbers I have as long as we get the job done."