A pair of second-year defensive backs turned in a pair of game-saving plays in the San Francisco 49ers home victory over the Atlanta Falcons.
Enter the 129th and 30th overall selections of the 2014 NFL Draft, Dontae Johnson and Jimmie Ward, who made back-to-back touchdown-saving plays towards the end of a 17-16 win on Sunday.
Johnson's moment was one of many fine plays from a banged-up secondary that was without the team's top three cornerbacks.
After playing sparingly in Weeks 1-8, Johnson entered the starting lineup at right cornerback for Kenneth Acker, who was ruled inactive due to a concussion. Johnson played more snaps than any player on the 49ers. He was on the field for all 64 defensive snaps and for 21 plays on special teams.
Johnson finished the game with six tackles and two pass breakups on passes intended for the NFL's leading wide receiver, Julio Jones, who already has 1,029 receiving yards in nine games.
Johnson's second pass breakup was the first of two critical defensive stops for San Francisco's defense which had a 17-13 lead when Atlanta got the ball for its final drive with 7:14 left in regulation.
After driving 63 yards on six plays, the Falcons faced a 2nd-and-goal from the 4-yard line. Atlanta elected to dial up a familiar play. Matt Ryan lofted an end-zone fade to Jones, but Johnson used his 6-foot-2 frame to shield away the No. 1 receiver and knock the ball away.
"It was either he catches the ball, and we're in the slumps again with that long week again, or stand up and make a play," Johnson told reporters on Monday. "I chose to stand up to make a play and put my team in a better situation to win the game."
Johnson said he expected Jones' number to be called when the Falcons entered the red zone.
"My mindset was find 11," Johnson said. "Nine out of 10 times, they're going to try to get him the ball. He's having a tremendous year so far.
"That's what you do. You try to go to your best player to answer the bell, and I was fortunate to stand up and make a play."
The 49ers, however, weren't out of the weeds just yet.
On third down, The Falcons ran a rub play to the wide side of the field. Tight end Jacob Tamme tried to disrupt Ward's timing by pushing Michael Wilhoite into his way, but the second-year defensive back showed excellent instincts by breaking on the ball to tackle Atlanta receiver Justin Hardy immediately for a 3-yard gain.
Ward's stop forced Dan Quinn to make a decision on whether or not to go for the go-ahead touchdown on 4th-and-goal from the 1. Instead of gambling, he elected to kick a 19-yard field goal. The Falcons ended up never getting the ball back.
"I was surprised," Ward said of Atlanta's decision to kick after the game. "But everything happens for a reason."
Ward's stop was highlighted by NFL Media's Marshall Faulk on NFL Network's Gameday Final program.
"That tackle right there saved the day," the Hall of Fame running back said.
Ward finished the game with six tackles and one pass breakup.
It was a solid showing from the young defensive back, who chipped in on the team's impressive performance against a powerful Falcons offense. Atlanta totaled 302 yards of offense on the day, which was 100 yards less than the team's yards per game average this season.
"We held them to 16 points," Ward said. "That's a big-time win for the defense."