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CB Asante Samuel brings whole new swagger to unbeaten Falcons, who are off to best start ever

Asante Samuel never stops yapping.

It doesn't matter whether he's on the practice field or in a game.

There's no mute in his playbook.

Last week, when the Atlanta Falcons' cornerback picked off a pass and returned it 79 yards for a crucial touchdown with less than 3 minutes remaining against the Oakland Raiders, his mouth was running as fast as his legs.

"All I heard was 'Hello!' Hello!'" said safety Thomas DeCoud, who was about 40 yards away in deep coverage.

"I still heard him. Loud and clear."

Samuel has brought plenty of swagger and bravado to the Atlanta defense, helping the Falcons (6-0) get off to the best start in franchise history. He kept on jabbering right through the bye week, going on Twitter to take a few pokes at his former team, the Philadelphia Eagles. Or, more specifically, his former coach, Andy Reid.

Guess who the Falcons play next?

Yep, the Eagles.

The 31-year-old Samuel has been to the Pro Bowl four times, but Reid reportedly expressed concerns about his high-priced cornerback being on the down side of his career. That's apparently why the Eagles all but gave him away, trading Samuel to the Falcons during the offseason for a measly seventh-round draft pick.

Not long after his first pick in an Atlanta uniform helped pull out a 23-20 win over the Raiders, Samuel was already looking forward to returning to the City of Brotherly Love.

"They love me," he said. "They're going to scream when I come out (of) that tunnel. Philly, y'all better scream when I come out (of) that tunnel!"

As if trying to stir things up even more, Samuel doled out some not-so-subtle tweets for Reid after the coach fired his defensive coordinator, Juan Castillo, with the Eagles also heading into a bye week. The move came after Philadelphia (3-3) squandered a 10-point lead on Detroit in the closing minutes, then lost in overtime.

"Sometimes you have to blame yourself. You can't try and always point the (finger) at someone else," Samuel wrote.

He followed up with this, "I'm just saying ... Ain't no decline over here."

Zing!

When the Falcons acquired Samuel, they envisioned him playing a lot of nickel and dime sets with holdover corners Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson. Some fans and media wondered if there might be some grumbling over playing time, considering the accomplishments of all three players.

Turns out, it wasn't a problem.

Grimes went down with a season-ending injury in the very first game. The Falcons are sure glad they traded for Samuel.

"He's a ball hawk," coach Mike Smith said. "He's got great skills once the ball is in his hands. Not only does he know how to jump routes and play the coverages, but when he gets it in his hands, he can do a lot of things."

Through the first five games, Samuel didn't have any picks. That wasn't entirely his fault; opposing teams shied away from throwing to his side. Plus, the safeties are allowed to do more freelancing under new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, which resulted in DeCoud already having four interceptions, while William Moore has two.

Going into Week 6, Samuel's teammates were razzing him about when he was going to get his first pick with the Falcons.

"That's what we expect him to do every game," defensive end John Abraham said. "I told him before the game, 'It's about time for you to get a pick, right?'"

Right on cue, Samuel came through.

With the game tied at 13 and the Raiders poised to at least set up for a go-ahead field goal, Carson Palmer threw a little out pattern for Denarius Moore. Samuel read it all the way, stepping in front of the intended receiver at the Atlanta 21. He was gone the other way, barking out his signature phrase — "Hello! Hello!" — even while sidestepping a weak attempt at a tackle by quarterback Carson Palmer.

Samuel didn't go down until he got to the end zone, where he was pummeled by Robinson and several other teammates.

"He got a great jump on the ball," Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said. "His timing on breaking on routes is as good as anybody I've ever seen."

The game wasn't over. The Raiders, to their credit, rallied for the tying touchdown, taking advantage of Samuel for the biggest play. Apparently still winded from his long return and the celebration, he was beaten on a 38-yard pass that moved the ball to the Atlanta 5. Two plays later, Oakland tied it up.

All was forgiven when the Falcons rattled off a lightning-quick drive, setting up Matt Bryant's 55-yard field goal with 1 second left.

"We have to work on our celebration there and realize that we'll have to go back on the field and try not to expend any energy after the touchdown," Smith said. "I know that's very difficult to do."

Besides, the last thing the Falcons want to do is rein in Samuel.

The best cornerbacks have two things in common — complete, unwavering confidence and the shortest memory on the field. Samuel is doing just fine in both areas.

On his Twitter page, he uses his biography to declare himself a "future Hall of Famer" and the "CEO of many things."

"Greatness," he writes. "Hate it or luv it."

After the pick-six against the Raiders, the cornerback who wears No. 22 delivered what might go down as the quote of the year.

"You might go for your breakfast. You might go for your lunch," Samuel said. "But when you go for that dinner, you know deuce-deuce (has) got to step up."

Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez, who most certainly is a future Hall of Famer, has never been one to dole out that sort of trash talk. But he likes what he's hearing from Samuel.

"Isn't he great?" Gonzalez said. "He's a fireplug. He's given that defense a whole new attitude, just changed the whole atmosphere."

It's definitely a lot noisier.

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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