The Atlanta Falcons are being universally dismissed against the New England Patriots, but their unheralded defense is a reason to believe.
Atlanta has never won the Super Bowl. This is one of the two biggest reasons that many believe it has little chance to beat the Patriots. The other reason is Tom Brady playing on the other side, going for his fifth title. Yet, for all the doubt permeating throughout the country, there is a not-so-subtle confidence from the Falcons.
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After going 11-5 and winning the NFC South, Atlanta went into the NFC playoffs and dispatched the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers to arrive in Houston. While Brady might be a looming legend, beating Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers was no easy feat in its own right. If nothing else, the Falcons know they can topple a top-notch team with a Hall of Fame-level quarterback.
It can’t be understated the impact of second-year coach Dan Quinn. Quinn, who came over after serving as Seattle’s defensive coordinator, has instilled a mindset not seen in Atlanta since the days of the Gritz Blitz. Under Quinn, Atlanta is fast and physical, led by a group that is mostly on the rise.
“Our preparation is so good and we go so hard during the week, Falcons middle linebacker Paul Worrilow said. “When we’re out there, we are letting it rip, letting all the work show, letting it shine. All of those hours are paying off. We can trust that what we’re doing during the week is going to help on Sunday because it has shown to in the past.”
Much of their success has been born from adversity. After losing corner Desmond Trufant midway through the season, Jalen Mills stepped up to fill the void. Additionally, the secondary has ascended with the play of first-round pick Keanu Neal. Neal, who is likened by many in Houston to Kam Chancellor, has brought a toughness to this group.
“He’s a great athlete, Falcons corner Robert Alford said. “They drafted him for a reason. You can see it each and every week. He puts in the time in the (meeting room) and puts in the time on the field. You can see it at practice. He practices how he plays. The only thing is he can’t hit people. On Sundays, you see the full Keanu Neal.”
The unit has gotten progressively better throughout the campaign. After allowing at least 28 points in eight of their first 12 games, the Falcons held opponents to 16 points or less in three of their final four regular-season contests. In the playoffs, the Seahawks managed only 13 points before garbage time. The Packers were shut out through halftime and didn’t score until they trailed by 31 points.
Without question, Atlanta is playing its best ball at the right time. Now, it’s 60 minutes separating them between never has and always will. In their minds, it’s about themselves, not the Patriots.
“At the end of the day it’s just going out there and playing our style of ball,” Alford said. “Going out there and just executing that gameplan that the coaches are putting together. …At the end of the day it falls upon us players.”