FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons signed defensive tackle Dontari Poe in free agency to help with their run defense. The Falcons will have to continue to play the run well against Carolina on Sunday.
It's been a slow transition as teams were able to rush for more than 100 yards during a three-game losing streak. New England torched Poe and the unit for a season-high 162 yards in a meek Super Bowl rematch on Oct. 22.
Falcons defensive coaches let the players know that run defense has been unacceptable. The Falcons' run defense, led by Poe and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, was salty against the New York Jets.
"Dontari Poe ... had one of his better games as a Falcon," Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said on Monday.
The Falcons held the Jets to 43 yards rushing on 22 carries. The Falcons had given up more than 100 yards rushing in each of the past three games.
"That defensive line, they killed it," free safety Ricardo Allen said. "Once you took their run game away, everything they were doing were third-and-longs. We had a chance to fight on third downs. That defensive line killed it."
Jarrett was disruptive and finished with seven tackles, half a sack and three tackles for losses. Poe was also active and finished with four tackles.
Backup tackle Ahtyba Rubin, playing his first game with the team, got in on the run-stuffing action and finished with two tackles.
With the defensive tackles holding their ground and trying to dominate in their gaps, the linebackers were free to tackle the running backs.
Middle linebacker Deion Jones finished with 11 tackles and strong safety Keanu Neal finished off more than a few runs as he had nine tackles. Defensive end Derrick Shelby also contributed four tackles.
Stopping the run was a point of emphasis for the defense against the Jets.
"It definitely was," Poe said. "We weren't playing the type of run defense that we wanted to. That's first and foremost in our defense: stop the run and everything else comes after that."
Poe wouldn't say if Quinn or defensive line coach Bryant Young were discussing the run defense the most.
"Everybody, but we knew what we had to do," Poe said.
Allen said the defensive line accepted the challenge from the coaching staff.
"The communication, we even heard the defensive linemen calling out plays," Allen said. "The communication, we took it really serious this week. We said over the last couple of weeks, we gave up things that we knew that we didn't want to. This week we took it for everybody to take pride and make our operation better."
With the run shut down, the defense was able to get the offense the ball back until something finally started working.
"They dominated their gaps," Allen said. "When the ball came through their gap or tried to come through their gaps, they made plays on it. The communication was huge. If we can alert and talk through a lot of stuff, we can stop plays before it ever happens."
Rubin was added to provide some depth.
"It always feels good to put hard work in during the week and see it pay off on Sundays," Rubin said. "Plus, it felt good out here to play with these boys and make plays and definitely get the W today."
Rubin, a 310-pounder, was added to aid the run defense.
"We got a good rotation in there, whenever we are in there we have to make plays," Rubin said. "If you stop the run, you get a chance to rush the passer. Every week, we are trying to stop the run and control the game. If you stop the run, you control the game. Everything else falls into place after that."
Starting with Sunday's road game against Carolina, the Falcons are set to face NFC South opponents in six of the final nine regular-season games.
"Back at the beginning of the offseason, training camp and the regular season, we put an emphasis on the division," head coach Dan Quinn said. "Now, we finally get back to do that. They are special because you only get six of them. This happens to be our first one. We are expecting a straight-up battle with them up in Charlotte."
The Falcons won the division last season to break Carolina's three-year stranglehold on the NFC South title. Before the Panthers took control, the division title essentially rotated since the NFL established it back in 2002.
Before Carolina's reign from 2013-2015, no team had ever repeated as division champions.
NFC South teams have reached the Super Bowl five times, with Tampa Bay winning Super Bowl XXXVII in 2003 and New Orleans winning Super Bowl XLIV in 2010. The Panthers have two Super Bowl losses and the Falcons have one.
"It does seem unusual to have the division games not start until here in November, but it will certainly make for an exciting second half so to speak with six of our (final) nine being division games," Quinn said.
While the Falcons are at least standing, the Bucs' title hopes are on life support. If the playoffs started today, the Falcons and Bucs would be at home.
"For us it's just about this week and how we'll go about it," Quinn said. "We look at it like a fight. How do you win this round, this fight."
The Falcons are hoping they are ready to get hot and make a major surge over the season half of the season.
In addition to the divisional games, the Falcons also face NFC playoff contender Dallas (4-3) on Nov. 12 at home, Seattle (5-2) on Monday Nov. 20 on the road and Minnesota (6-2) on Dec. 3 at home.
NOTES: RB Devonta Freeman suffered a shoulder injury after being hit by Jets defensive back Juston Burris with 5:23 left in the game. He will be limited in practice this week. ... DE Takkarist McKinley appeared to suffer a shoulder injury against the Jets. He will also be limited in practice this week. ... RB Tevin Coleman had a 52-yard run against the Jets. Coleman finished with 82 yards rushing on 14 carries. ... QB Matt Ryan, who had been struggling throwing the deep ball, connected with wide receiver Julio Jones for a 53-yard gain on a deep bomb down the middle of the field against the Jets.
REPORT CARD VS. JETS
--PASSING OFFENSE: C - Trailing 17-13, the Falcons' offense came out in the second half and had two three-and-outs before Matt Ryan connected on a 53-yard bomb with Julio Jones. The Falcons were 2 of 6 in the red zone, which included a dropped touchdown pass by tight end Austin Hooper in the second quarter. The Falcons were 5 of 14 on third downs and called 13 pass plays. There were four drops on third down.
--RUSHING OFFENSE: C-plus - The Falcons' rushing attack was slowed for most of the game in the pouring rain. The line was not able to create many creases against the Jets' 3-4 defensive alignment. The Falcons' longest run midway through the third quarter was a 14-yard scamper by quarterback Matt Ryan. Coleman's bust-out run for 52 yards set up the go-ahead touchdown.
--PASS DEFENSE: F - Jets receiver Robby Anderson victimized cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford by beating both of them deep. On the Jets' first touchdown, there was some nice play-action that sucked in linebacker Kemal Ishmael and safety Keanu Neal was beaten off the line. Ishmael was late to drop into his lane and tight end Eric Tomlinson was open for the 20-yard score. The score came on a play after free safety Ricardo Allen was called for a pass interference. Trufant was beaten badly by Anderson for a 24-yard touchdown grab. In the third quarter with the Jets holding a one-point lead, Alford was beaten up the sideline by Anderson for a 35-yard gain.
--RUSH DEFENSE: A - Grady Jarrett and Dontari Poe led a spirited effort against the run. The Falcons entered the game knowing that they needed to stop the run and gave up a 12-yard run around right end on the first play of the game to Jets running back Bilal Powell. The Jets had just 23 yards on 12 carries after the half. They finished with 43 yards on 22 carries.
--SPECIAL TEAMS: A-minus - Matt Bryant was steady as Jets kicker Chandler Catanzaro missed two field goals in bad weather. Bryant made field goals of 23, 45, 37 and 29 yards. The coverage units were strong and Matt Bosher punted well. The ball handling was flawless, but the Falcons had a punt returned for a touchdown called back by an illegal block in the back by Sharrod Neasman.
--COACHING: B-plus - The Falcons' coaches came up with a plan to fix the leaky run defense and that paid huge dividends. Yes, Jets quarterback Josh McCown hit on a few passes, but he wasn't able to sustain drives and the Jets reached the Falcons' 20 just once. Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian continued to struggle with the play-calling. The Falcons came out of the half with two three-and-outs. The offense appeared to be at its best when Matt Ryan was operating out of the no-huddle. The attack was also marred by four fumbled snaps and two lost fumbles.