From a Seattle perspective, there’s a lot to admire about the Atlanta Falcons, chief among them ex-Seahawks coach Dan Quinn. But that won’t count for much because the Patriots are the Patriots. Again.
It wouldn’t be quite accurate to label Dan Quinn as Pete Carroll Jr., but there’s a whole lot about his NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons that is reminiscent of the Seahawks’ 2013 team that won a Super Bowl when Quinn was defensive coordinator.
Young, aggressive defense (six starters in their first or second years); an offense with a respectable running game that allows for effective play-action; error-free special teams. Then luck — they were mostly healthy at the right time, and with quality depth affordable because they aren’t paying many stars market-rate yet.
Sure, it’s possible to say that formula is hardly unique to Carroll. But when good seeding provided a bye and two home playoff games that became easy wins, it’s theft of the Carrollian script.
As were the words Quinn used after the 36-20 playoff win two weeks ago in the Georgia win over Seattle, which were probably much like the phrases deployed after the Falcons’ 44-21 win over Green Bay Sunday:
“The game was won during the week.” (Carroll has never owned up to a bad week of practice)
“I told the team it was going to be about the ball.” (Win the turnover ratio, win the game)
“Most importantly, I thought the fans lit it up for us tonight. We called for it; they delivered.” (Mandatory gratuitous pandering to the base)
“Having balance for us is the key.” (Even when they don’t have it)
“Matt Ryan was on it like it he has been the entire year.” (Russell Wilson was always on it too)
“The ability to add (running backs as receivers) to our offense has been critical for us.” (Marshawn Lynch’s least-appreciated virtue)
So yes, the Falcons are a lot like the earlier Seahawks. And for the reason of making the Seahawks 11-6-1 look at little better, most Seattle fans will sidle up to the Falcons in Super Bowl LI in Houston.
Probably the biggest difference between this year’s Falcons and Quinn’s first season as Seahawks defensive coordinator was that the Seattle club led the NFL in fewest points allowed (231), fewest yards allowed (4,378), and takeaways (39), respectively, to become the first team to do that since the 1985 Chicago Bears. That’s some serious, Old Testament meanness.
The Falcons defense does not compare to that Seahawks defense.
It’s the kind of defense that would provide a chance against the New England Patriots, whose 36-17 win Sunday was more impressive because the Pittsburgh Steelers were better than the broken-down Packers. Up until now, Green Bay’s many injuries were masked by the play of QB Aaron Rodgers, who until the Falcons game was balling with Marvel Comics super powers.
But when 39-year-old QB Tom Brady throws for a Patriots postseason-record 384 passing yards against the NFL’s No. 1-rated Steelers defense, the Falcons have only a modest chance despite the bravura postseason of QB Matt Ryan.
The insufferable Pats are back. Brady will set the NFL record with a seventh appearance in a Super Bowl, where the Pats are 4-2. The Vegas wise guys have made a three-point favorite of a New England team that hasn’t lost since Nov. 13, when the Seahawks won in Foxborough 31-24 in a game that increasingly looks as mysterious as the statues on Easter Island.
The dream of the NFL and most fans is that the Falcons do make it that close, mostly because in terms of dramatic tension, this season’s playoffs have been flaccid. Average margin of victory in the 10 games is 15.7 points, Only one game, Packers-Cowboys, was close.
Wild card games
Texans 27, Raiders 13
Steelers 30, Dolphins 12
Seahawks 26, Lions 6
Packers 38, Giants 13
Patriots 34, Texans 16
Falcons 36, Seahawks 20
Steelers 18, Chiefs 16
Packers 34, Cowboys 31
Falcons 44, Packers 21
Patriots 36, Steelers 17
But there is this: When the Pats win, Roger Goodell will be forced to make the championship trophy presentation to Brady, owner Robert Kraft and coach Bill Belichick after the commissioner suspended Brady for the season’s first four games for Deflategate, the fingernails across the chalkboard of American sports.
It is difficult to cheer for either side. But at least the Patriots, because they play the game, remain beatable eventually. Goodell in the New York office is untouchable.
Except for one excruciating moment in Houston.
It is a small victory. In times of bleakness, it must be taken.
Nevertheless, go forward, Dan Quinn. As it is written in gridiron scripture, be about the ball.