Reporting David Elfin
When DeAngelo Hall, a two-time Pro Bowl cornerback during his four seasons in Atlanta, faced his ex-teammates for the first time as a foe in November 2008, the Falcons cruised to a 24-0 victory at Oakland. The Raiders cut Hall three days later and he soon signed with the Washington Redskins.
The Redskins went down to Georgia the following November and got trampled in a game mostly remembered for a second quarter scuffle along the sideline that was ignited by safety LaRon Landry’s late hit on Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan and wound up with Hall and Falcons coach Mike Smith in the middle of the melee.
The ever-emotional Hall had gotten into it with then-Falcons coach Bobby Petrino during a 2007 game in which he also battled Carolina receiver Steve Smith, so his role in the near-brawl in 2009 wasn’t a surprise despite his 5-foot-10, 195-pound size.
“I was pretty sure that he had something to do with it,” said Falcons star receiver Roddy White, whom Hall will cover at times when the teams square off on Sunday in Landover for the first time since that melee in the Georgia Dome.
“Guys just started coming at me,” said Hall, who remained so heated afterwards that he threatened to call NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to complain about his treatment by the Falcons and Smith. “It wasn’t in any mindset to break the fight up. It was in a mindset to try to get some licks in. Even the head coach came over there. Mike Smith said some stuff, cussed me out. He was grabbing at me, pulling at me.”
Hall had gone back to Atlanta bearing a grudge towards Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff trading him less than two months after they took command of the Falcons in January 2008.
Three years after the trade and 15 months after the incident in the Georgia Dome, Smith, who was coaching the NFC team in the Pro Bowl, sought out Hall when they reached Hawaii.
“We had a real good conversation sitting out by the pool the first night we were there,” Smith recalled. “DeAngelo is one of the most competitive guys in this league. You can see it in the way he plays every week. Competition and emotion are a big part of being successful in this league and that’s why he’s been around for nine years and played the way he’s played.”
Hall played so well after their talk that he finished the week by winning MVP honors in the typically no-defense all-star game with an interception, a fumble return for a touchdown and six solo tackles.
“Me and Mike are cool,” Hall said Wednesday. “We were able to sit down and talk and hang out. We’re good.”
Hall and the rest of the Redskins’ 31st-ranked pass defense need to be a lot better than they’ve been when they face NFL passing leader Matt Ryan, Smith and the unbeaten Falcons on Sunday.
“I always said [that] team was missing a little attitude on defense,” Hall said about a topic he knows so well. “I feel like [new Falcons coordinator and one-time Redskins coordinator] Mike Nolan has definitely brought that attitude to those guys. They’re playing lights-out so it’s going to be a challenge for our offense. Their offense is rolling. They’re clicking. Everything’s going right. We’ll try to mix some things up … and go out and mess with those guys.”
Lesser passing attacks such as those of St. Louis and Tampa Bay have messed up Washington’s secondary. Opposing quarterbacks have a 99.7 passer rating against the Redskins, who have been torched for a league-high 19 touchdown throws.
“Sixty perfect snaps, one bad (one) and the sky’s falling down,” Hall said, referring to the second half bombs to Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams that accounted for 119 of the Bucs’ 299 yards last Sunday. That’s part of the beast. Luckily we were able to pull the game out [24-22] so we didn’t feel as bad, but we gotta be better. We finished [the first quarter of the season] 2-2, but offensively we played lights-out. We can’t ask them do it for 16 games. They’ve carried us. It’s kind of on us to right the ship.”
Hall has righted his personal ship concerning the Falcons, the only franchise with whom he has reached postseason. The challenge of righting the Redskins — 28-28 in the 56 games immediately before his arrival but just 18-38 with him in the lineup – remains a major task.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin