The final act is here.
The New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons will face-off Sunday at 3:30 ET in Super Bowl LI.
This will be the ninth Super Bowl appearance in Patriots history, with Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick heading to their seventh Super Bowl together. Chuck Noll, Tom Landry nor Bill Walsh ever managed that.
Same for Brady, besting the likes of Terry Bradshaw, Roger Staubach and Joe Montana as arguably the best quarterback in NFL history.
The Patriots have experience, their well-balanced, and, oh yea, they have a guy by the name of Brady throwing the ball.
The Patriots beat the Seattle Seahawks in 2014 on that controversial play on the one-yard line by Pete Carroll that ended in a game-saving interception by Malcom Butler to secure the franchise another Super Bowl.
The Patriots are the experienced team coming in, but the Falcons have former Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who has experience of his own. Quinn will head to his third Super Bowl in four years, his first as a head coach
In their only Super Bowl appearance, the Falcons lost to the Denver Broncos, 34-19, led by John Elway and Terrell Davis in 1998.
Quinn won a Super Bowl as the defensive coordinator in Seattle during the 2013 season, when the Seahawks whipped the Broncos 43-8. The very next year, Quinn held the same role as the Patriots defeated the Seahawks 28-24.
Now, Quinn will take a young Falcons team to the NFL’s biggest stage, an atmosphere experienced by a select few players, such as seven-time Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney (Colts), linebacker Philip Wheeler (Colts), defensive lineman Courtney Upshaw (Ravens), safety Dashon Goldson (49ers), and recently promoted defensive lineman Joe Vellano (Patriots).
Tight end Jacob Tamme, who is on injured reserve following shoulder surgery, went to Super Bowls with both the Colts and Broncos.
“No. 1, they are difficult to defend,” Quinn said of the Patriots. “They use a variety of different formations, personnel groups. They’ve got a huge playbook, from the pass game into the run game — gap schemes, trap schemes in the run game. Quick game. I’d say it’s an offense that’s well-versed. They have different ways to attack you. We’ll have our work cut out for us going through the game plan this week to get ready.
Even with the bright lights, millions of reporters, it’s still just a football game and Matt Ryan says his team will be ready.
Ryan is having an MVP-caliber season, and like most of the young Falcons, will play in his first Super Bowl. Ryan and his teammates have never seen anything like the Super Bowl atmosphere they walked into last week.
“I’m sure everyone will be excited and anxious going into it. But as far as nerves, I feel like we’ve prepared ourselves for this moment,” Ryan said, expanding the theme to envelop the team in which he typically sets the tone by triggering the NFL’s most explosive offense.
“This is exactly where we wanted to be. We’ve put in the work, put in the time. I think we’ll all be ready to go and excited.”
Apart from the media obligation leading up to the big game, Ryan seemed pleased with the team’s preparation.
“Obviously this part of the week is different from what we normally deal with, but I think we’ve got a group that’s focused on the right things, a group that understands we have this (media) obligation and to do it professionally.
“But at the same time when (the off-field chores are) done, they’re done. And it’s time to get to work and take care of business. I think our guys have had the right mindset the entire week. When it’s been time to do this (interviews), we’ve done it. And when it’s time to get to work we’ve been able to check in and focus. I’m proud of our guys for that.”
Julio Jones has been a matchup nightmare all season for defenses, but if we know the Patriots they master in taking away the opponents best weapon. During preparations, Belichick put two receivers, Michael Floyd and Matthew Slater in No. 11 jerseys to play as Jones on the scout team.
“That’s such a key guy for us, the routes and all that,” Belichick told pool reporter Peter King of TheMMQB.com. “We have two guys doing it so we won’t wear one guy out.” knows all to well how defenses try to cover him. He doesn’t mind it.
Belichick wants to make sure his defense is ready to slow down Jones and be aware of where he is at all times on the field.
“You’ve got to know where he is on every play,” Belichick said.
Jones doesn’t mind the extra attention it’s just a normal game for him.
“Teams been double-covering me throughout the year, over the years, actually, so for me it’s just a normal game,” said the All-Pro wide receiver. “I’m going to prepare. I’m going to get ready, and at the end of the week just go out there and ball.”
Remember when Brady was suspended for the first quarter of the season and everyone was wondering if the Patriots could survive without their white knight.
They managed to go 3-1 and used their second and third string quarterbacks. Now there back in the Super Bowl once again. Brady will have to battle through a Falcons’ defense that’s been just short of brilliant during their playoff run.
“They have some of their own characteristics, and of course the players are different, so that makes it different,” the Patriots head coach said in a conference call with reporters. “But schematically, there is quite a bit of carryover. I think just at first glance it might be a little more pressure from Atlanta than Seattle ran, but Seattle did some of it, too. I think overall, the schemes are very similar.”
Some say youth is a real vulnerability of the Falcons defense, which includes three rookie starters and four more with only two years’ experience. But coach Dan Quinn said his callow defense helps the veterans as well.
“Our younger guys are playing like older guys. And our older guys are playing like younger guys,” he said.
Which means that there are advantages to have players on both sides of the age divide. They obviously feed off each other.
The Falcons weren’t the sexiest Super Bowl team coming out the NFC. Remember, there were the Carolina Panthers last year, the Green Bay Packers, Dallas Cowboys and the Seahawks.
After dismantling the Seahawks and the Packers, the Falcons have charmed people over as a legitimate Super Bowl threat to the mighty machine that is the Patriots.
Pick: Falcons 30 Patriots 27