Atlanta Falcons defensive lineman Marlon Davidson smiled wide when he heard the statistic.
One day earlier, Davidson intercepted Tom Brady and sprinted to the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown. In doing so, he became the first defensive lineman since the Buffalo Bills’ Aaron Schobel in 2009 to register a pick-six against Brady.
“That’s a wild stat — 2009,” he said. “Dude kind of old, man.”
What was the 23-year-old Davidson doing back then?
“I think I was in middle school,” he said with a grin. “I mean, come on, man. I used to watch this man all the time. It’s crazy.”
Davidson’s defensive touchdown was a highlight in an otherwise dreary week for the Falcons, who fell to 5-7 after a 30-17 loss against Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But the Falcons are not ready to surrender on the season, and the progress of young players such as Davidson gives the team reason for optimism.
In nine games this season, Davidson has 19 tackles, one tackle for loss, one sack and one fumble recovery in addition to the pick. He has improved from his rookie season in 2020, when he finished with eight tackles in eight games.
The Auburn product picked an important time to intercept Brady. The Falcons trailed 20-10 in the final minute of the first half when Davidson jumped in front of a screen pass intended for Leonard Fournette and ran untouched into the end zone.
“It was nice to see Marlon make a play, to have the awareness right there to (read) the screen,” Falcons head coach Arthur Smith said. “It was a big play for us.”
Before the game, Davidson envisioned doing a sack dance. He never imagined doing a touchdown celebration, pumping his fists as teammates surrounded him and pounded him on the helmet.
“I thought I was going to run about 30 yards,” Davidson said. “We do this stuff all the time, playing around before practice. … We sit there and play catch all the time, acting like we’re receivers. D-linemen, we always want to be small. Big guys always want to be small, small guys always want to be big.”
Davidson is confident he and his teammates, both big and small, still can turn around their season.
“Every game, we’re always right there,” he said. “Something that we can change is just one little tweak or one little play could change the whole game.
“With the guys that we’ve got in our room, the guys that come to work every day, we’re a playoff team. We are. We just have to put it out there on display every Sunday.”