We've seen enough of Marshon Lattimore to now know that he salivates where others may hesitate.
So the New Orleans Saints' rookie cornerback wasn't at all fearful of a night that presented the challenge of a series of matchups against Atlanta All-Pro receiver Julio Jones, the only receiver in NFL history with multiple games of 250-plus receiving yards, and a pretty safe bet this season to be named All-Pro for the third time, and to be a Pro Bowl selection for the fifth time.
"In order to be the best, you've got to play the best, and do good against the best," Lattimore said. "Of course, they're going to get their plays and you're going to get your plays. Just going against the best is only going to make you better. I like going against guys like that."
He looked the part in the Saints' 20-17 loss to the Falcons last Thursday.
Lattimore and the Saints' secondary held their own against Jones and the Falcons, with Lattimore coming away with one of New Orleans' three interceptions (on three consecutive possessions), tying him for the team lead this season with three.
Atlanta's Matt Ryan had 221 passing yards and completed 15 of 27 passes. Lattimore, returning from a two-game absence due to an ankle injury, had three tackles, a pass defensed and his pick; Jones finished with five catches for 98 yards.
"Felt like I did pretty well," said Lattimore, the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Month in October. "I feel like I gave up too many catches. That's how I always feel, though – if I give up one, I'm mad. I can always improve on everything. I was guarding one of the best receivers in the league; of course, that was a challenge. But I think I stepped up and tried to do everything I could for my team.
"I got a pick. We still lost, though. So that really doesn't mean too much to me if we lose."
In the previous two games in which Lattimore had an interception, against Detroit (he returned it 27 yards for a touchdown) and Chicago, the Saints won.
Still, Lattimore said, it was a learning process.
"Going up against (Jones), you've got to be competitive," said Lattimore, who also has 10 passes defensed, a forced fumble and 39 tackles this season. "He's a big, strong, fast guy, so being competitive as much as you can is going to help you a lot with him. I see on tape, a lot of people are scared of him and receivers like him. I just try to go out there with confidence and do what I have to do."
Doing so after a two-week absence made it all the more impressive. Entering the 14th game of his first NFL season – Lattimore has 10 starts; the Saints (9-4) will play the New York Jets (5-8) on Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome – he knows that perfect health is an unrealistic expectation at this time of a season.
"It's a long season, injuries are going to happen," he said. "Sometimes you've just got to push through them and that's what I'm doing now.
"It's football. You're going to get dinged up, whether you've got 12 games or 16 games or whatever. It is what it is. It's football at the end of the day."