FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. Defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux played alongside John Abraham for seven seasons with the Falcons during which time they grew close on and off the field.
They talked as recently as last Sunday, but not about the Falcons upcoming game on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, Abrahams new team.Still, Babineaux knows his friend well enough to realize that Abraham will have a chip on his shoulder about not being here right now.
Hes going to be ready, hes going to be prepared, Babineaux said. He always played like that and I dont think well see anything different from him.
The Falcons cut Abraham, the defensive end nicknamed The Predator for the way he hunts quarterbacks, on March 1, along with cornerback Dunta Robinson and running back Michael Turner, in a salary-cap-related purge. With such an unceremonious ending in Atlanta for Abraham who ranks second all-time in franchise history in sacks for the Falcons with 68.5 he sounded in his comments in a conference call with Atlanta media on Wednesday as if he does have a chip on his shoulder, his words tinged with bitterness.
Its been nice, Abraham said of his time in Arizona. I mean, I still enjoy playing so just being around people who want me here ... its good.
After the Falcons cut Abraham, speculation was rampant that the Falcons might choose to re-sign Abraham at a reduced salary, which, obviously, never came to fruition. Abraham, 35 and now in his 14thseason, said he contemplated retirement.
I was surprised (about getting cut) because I was worrying more about us losing to San Francisco, he said of the NFC Championship Game. I wasnt really worrying about getting cut because I just signed a three-year deal (in March 2012). ... I was just chillin and the next thing my sister called me and said, They said theyre about to cut you. And I was like, What? I had my phone off after the San Francisco game so I didnt talk to nobody.
Abraham said both Falcons head coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff phoned him to tell him it was a business move and that their reasons, in Abrahams words, were not about his physical play and meant nothing personally.
Asked if he thought the Falcons simply were feeding him a line and that the decision might have had something to do with his age, Abraham, often colorful in his speech, said, Hell, Im still old. It dont matter. Its over now so I cant really dwell on it. Im actually playing now for another team so I cant dwell on what happened then.
Abraham tried to stick to that line of the past being the past and downplayed whether the game would carry much emotion for him, especially since it wont be played in the Georgia Dome. Tony Gonzalez, for one, knows better. Gonzalez, who spent his first 12 seasons in Kansas City before he was traded to Atlanta, played his first game against his former team last season. Gonzalez said Abraham will feel the weight of emotion -- irrespective of where the game will be played.
I know exactly how he feels, Gonzalez said. Obviously, last year when I went out there and played Kansas City, you have so many emotions and you also want to play really well. You want to show the former team, Hey, Ive still got some juice in the tank. Youre going against the guys you used to be in the locker room with so itll be emotional -- probably more emotional than he thinks.
Its kind of weird. At the same time, its fun. Hopefully, he doesnt have too much of an impact on us.
In addition to his new surroundings, Abraham, a South Carolina native who played college ball for the instate Gamecocks, said he didnt know anything about Arizona before signing there.
He's also had to adjust to a new scheme. After beingdrafted back in 2000 as an outside linebacker, Abraham has mostly evolved into a 4-3 defensive end.However, the Cardinals run the 3-4 in new coordinator Todd Bowles system, while also throwing in some 4-3 looks, and Abraham has had to learn to play outside linebacker.
Perhaps thats why Abraham started only one of the Cardinals first three games.
Now, he has started the last four in a row and his learning curve has begun to pay off, as he registered two sacks and two of his patented forced fumbles last Thursday in a 34-22 loss to Seattle. Both Abraham and Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians said that Abraham has gotten close to the quarterback a number of times and could have a lot more sacks.
You know, hes got that perfect swat when he hits that ball, said Arians, in his first season. He must have missed the ball maybe five times by an inch and then the other night he got it a couple of times. Johns been playing extremely well for us.
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Clearly, how Abraham plays against the Falcons is a major concern from the Atlanta point of view. On Monday, Smith said he expects Abraham to bring his A game.
From years of practice against members of the Falcons offensive line, notably left tackle Sam Baker, who appears to be on the mend after missing three games this season, Abraham could bring some inside knowledge with him. Abraham was asked about knowing his former teammates tendencies.
Yeah, but I aint going to tell yall, he said.
And so The Predator might enjoy the taste of sacking Matt Ryanfor the first time.
I used to chase him in practice, Abraham said. I just couldnt touch him. Now I can.
Thats what the Falcons are worried about.