Falcons' Desmond Trufant knows he needs to get back to elite level

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant still walks around with a confident strut and still believes he's among the elite players at his position.

At the same time, the one-time Pro Bowler knows he's not playing at an elite level right now.

"I haven't had the best couple games, but it is what it is," Trufant told ESPN. "All I can do is learn from it. I definitely know I can play a whole lot better. I just have to keep pushing. We have a long season, a lot of football left. I just have to keep preparing and keep battling."

Critics took a fair number of shots at Trufant after he surrendered a 24-yard touchdown to receiver Robby Anderson in last week's win against the New York Jets. Anderson had 4.34 speed and made a great catch, but Trufant knows he could have been in better position. He took a step inside and got a little turned around.

"Just technique," Trufant said. "I just have to get back to my technique. I just got impatient at the line of scrimmage trying to play something else instead of just playing the man. He got me. Chalk it up. I play corner. Sometimes, I'm going to get beat.

"I never want it to happen. Obviously, I was upset. But I just move forward. There [are] a lot of plays out there for me to make -- for us to make. I'm focused on getting this next win."

Trufant, a 2013 first-round draft who received a five-year, $68.75 million extension, won't use last year's season-ending pectoral tear after nine games as a crutch for his slow start. He overcame the mental hurdle lingering from the injury the moment he made his first tackle during a preseason matchup against Miami. Then Trufant appeared to be back to his normal self in Week 2, when he returned a fumble 15 yards for a score and intercepted Aaron Rodgers to set up another touchdown in the Falcons' 34-23 win against Green Bay. The performance earned Trufant the NFC's Defensive Player of the Week honor.

Trufant followed the next week in Detroit by picking up two key defensive penalties in the final minute that nearly led to a game-winning score for the Lion. One was a defensive holding that wiped away a Robert Alford interception. The other was a defensive pass interference that gave the Lions the ball at the Falcons' 1-yard line. Fortunately for Trufant, teammate Brian Poole kept Detroit's Golden Tate out of the end zone on the final play.

The Falcons know Trufant is critical to the team's defensive success the rest of the way, particularly with wide receivers such as Carolina's Devin Funchess, Tampa Bay's Mike Evans, Dallas' Dez Bryant, and New Orleans' Michael Thomas on the schedule.

"Tru is a dog," said free safety Ricardo Allen. "He comes in week in and week out and he's a perfectionist. It's easy to criticize somebody when something happens to him. But they never want to give him props when he doesn't give up a ball all night because they don't throw the ball to his side.

"It's kind of like kicker: You love him until he misses a kick, although he makes 100 of them. Trufant locks down people all the time, and nobody says anything. As soon as he gives up one pass, everybody wants to go at him."

Returning to an elite level for Trufant isn't just about interceptions, although creating more turnovers was an emphasis for him coming into the season. Trufant believes the best play he's made in 2017 was a tackle for a no gain against running back Mike Gillislee in the loss to New England.

Defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel isn't overly concerned about Trufant.

"Get back to technique, and he's battling every day," Manuel said. "For him, the cool part is, you know who he is. You know the core of the athlete. So it's not a problem from that standpoint. It's just getting back to who he is and what he needs to do with his technique, that's all.

"This is Trufant, man. He will be fine."

Trufant is his toughest critic, although he admitted his father, Lloyd, points out his mistakes to him, too.

"It's just about being consistent," Trufant said. "You have to be consistent with your technique and your tackling; just your fundamentals. That's really what makes the greats great. They consistently do the right things. That's just what I'm focused on.

"It's the NFL. They get paid; I get paid. They might make a play on me. I'm upset. I'm hot about it. But at the same time, I got nine games to keep pushing and do whatever I can to help us win."