FLOWERY BRANCH — The Falcons' defense was handed a new challenge on Monday as players returned from their long weekend: How to contain Teddy Bridgewater.
Bridgewater, the rookie quarterback from Louisville, will make his first start for Minnesota on Sunday against Atlanta.
Atlanta recorded its first three sacks of the season and an interception return for a touchdown in its impressive 56-14 win over Tampa Bay on Thursday night.
No one on the defense was talking about the Buccaneers on Monday. Instead, Bridgewater was the popular topic.
Linebacker Paul Worrilow said the defense will have to play with discipline to keep Bridgewater, a threat as a runner and passer, in the pocket.
"They're going to base their offense off of what he can do well, which is obviously run and move around," Worrilow said. "That's going to be something we're going to have to prepare for."
Bridgewater is untested as a starter in the NFL, but his college resume earned him respect from the Falcons.
"Teddy is a good player," said Falcons rookie linebacker Prince Shembo. "We were in the same draft class and I have a lot of good friends that know him and played with him. He's real consistent, he's got a strong arm and he's smart, real smart."
Bridgewater made his debut in Sunday's 20-9 loss to the Saints after starter Matt Cassel broke his left foot.
Falcons coach Mike Smith said his game plan for the Vikings changed with Cassel's injury.
"We've got a challenge in my mind with an athletic quarterback to be able to keep him in the pocket," Smith said after Monday's practice."
Atlanta's pass rush finally emerged against the Buccaneers. Jonathan Massaquoi, Stansly Maponga and Corey Peters recorded Atlanta's first sacks of the season in the win over Tampa Bay.
"Once one person starts off with a sack, it's like a virus," said Massaquoi. "It's contagious. Everybody wants to get a sack. That's the beauty of this game of football. One person's aspirations can motivate another."
Safety Kemal Ishmael gave the defense another big play when he returned his first career interception 23 yards for a touchdown.
"I think the defense performed well," Massaquoi said. "We executed well in a lot of fields and we still have a lot of things we need to clean up on.
"Guys ran around. We played physical. We've just got to get ready for Minnesota. That was last week."
Bridgewater is this week's test. He completed 12 of 20 passes for 150 yards and ran for 27 yards as he led two field-goal drives against the Saints.
"He has an arm; he can get it out there," Massaquoi said. "He has his legs as weapons. As long as we contain the quarterback and get after him we should have no problems."