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Posts tagged with "Super Bowl LI"

The Falcons dealt with this the whole offseason, and you saw it, because it was impossible to miss it—28–3, 28–3, 28–3. And riding shotgun to all the taunting was the idea that the mother of all Super Bowl hangovers was coming as a result of the mother of all Super Bowl collapses.

Two weeks in, not so much. And the Falcons have handled all of this so well, because they haven’t run from it. As recently as last week, players—all the way up the chain to Matt Ryan—were speaking freely about overcoming the past. There wasn’t a ceremonial burial of a football, or an embargo on talking about 2016. Instead, the players and coaches have hit what they had coming right between the eyes.

And the reason why is simple. They did what few NFL teams have the stomach to when things go sideways—behind the GM they’ve stuck with for a decade and a head coach they’ve invested in, they believed in their course and stuck to it.

You can start, too, with one thing that actually changed. Atlanta handled its biggest offseason defection—Kyle Shanahan leaving to coach the Niners—by asking every candidate they interviewed, “can you run his offense?” In essence, screaming to the players, stay the course. The man Quinn found, Steve Sarkisian, has background with Pete Carroll, another sign of how Atlanta was building on the program, not tearing it down. So while the pilot was different, the script wasn’t and, at least on Sunday, neither was the result. Matt Ryan and company rolled up 257 yards and 24 points in the first half alone against Green Bay.

If they looked unaffected by all the noise, that makes sense too, because it had been impressed on the players that they’d been through a smaller version of this before. During Dan Quinn’s first season with the Falcons, the team saw a 6–1 start evaporate into an 8–8 finish—and that loomed over the 2016 offseason. The same way 28–3 will come up this year every time Atlanta has a lead, the 2–7 meltdown served as a caveat to every early-season win they had last year. And the Falcons were able to plow through all of that on their way to the Super Bowl.

And then, finally, there’s Quinn himself, a coach who was the king of the 2015 coaching carousel in large part because of his ability to reach players and lead, qualities that equipped him for the aftermath of the letdowns of both the ’15 season, and Super Bowl LI.

We don’t know yet whether or not the Falcons are going to be where they were last year, with a shot to win the franchise’s first world title. But what we should’ve known all along was simple—they most certainly were equipped to handle all that was coming their way.

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Thursday night in Foxborough, an aging quarterback, his successor waiting in the wings, proved that he hasn’t lost a smidgen of his ability. It just wasn’t the QB we thought it’d be.

While the 40-year-old Tom Brady completed just 44.4% of his passes, the 33-year-old Alex Smith threw for 368 yards and four touchdowns, connecting on 28 of his 35 attempts. But furthering the theme of Smith’s career, he won’t be the nation’s focus on Friday. New England’s defense will—specifically, what’s wrong with it.

As of right now, plenty. The Patriots allowed 537 yards and 42 points—worsts of the Bill Belichick era. There were mental mistakes in the second half, from 12 men on the field on a desperation third down late in the fourth quarter, to $65-million corner Stephon Gilmore and safety Devin McCourty miscommunicating on Tyreek Hill’s 75-yard touchdown.

Mental mistakes can be cleaned up. More concerning was where Kansas City out-executed and out-smarted New England. A great snapshot was third-round rookie running back Kareem Hunt’s 78-yard touchdown catch. The play began with a patented Chiefs misdirection fake to Hill, which widened the defense. It ended with Hunt finishing a wheel route out of the backfield, where the only man who could defend him was Cassius Marsh, a longtime 4–3 defensive end in Seattle who was acquired by the Patriots just five days earlier. Presumably, Marsh has not practiced downfield man coverage much. Worse yet, it was one-on-one coverage with no deep safety—a consequence of free safety Duron Harmon reacting to Hill and Eric Rowe double-teaming Travis Kelce instead of replacing Harmon in centerfield. As expected, they’d homed in on those two all night, and Andy Reid made them pay.

Building on his improvements from last year, Kelce also defeated the Patriots as a run-blocker multiple times, including on Hunt’s 58-yard sweep to ice the game. That brings us to potentially the biggest problem facing the Patriots: run defense. It suffered after Dont’a Hightower left in the third quarter with a knee injury (that’s why Marsh was in).

Hightower, a stack linebacker for much of his career, appears to have a new fulltime position: strongside defensive end. That’s no surprise. The Patriots are deep at inside linebacker and, following Jabaal Sheard’s move to Indianapolis and Rob Ninkovich’s retirement, they’re thin on the front edge. Hightower has the resolute strength to fill this role. In fact, he dominated the Falcons as a line-of-scrimmage defender in the second half of Super Bowl LI.

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Feb 5, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Atlanta Falcons outside linebacker De'Vondre Campbell (59) reacts after a sack of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12, not pictured) in the second quarter during Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dan Powers-USA TODAY Sports

Dan Powers-USA TODAY Sports

ATLANTA — Before he was playing in front of 70,807 fans in person and around 111.3 million more at home in Super Bowl LI, De’Vondre Campbell was laughed at in his high school hallway. His team then was a joke.

Before he was declaring himself a voice that would drive the Falcons‘ redemption, he was knocked out cold with a concussion. He was told it would threaten his football career.

Before he was raising a daughter of his own, he was a son unsure why his mother was losing her hair.

No Super Bowl-losing team has returned to the championship game since the 1993 Bills. The hangover is real. But this is also a Falcons team that believes it possesses the right personalities to recover from 28-3, to return this season with a vengeance.

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nterested in rooting for one of the NFL’s 32 teams — but don’t know where to start? Adam Rank has you covered with this series, which will present a handy guide to becoming an instantly rabid fan of each organization in the league. Below, find out why you should root for the Atlanta Falcons.

What you need to know so you don’t sound stupid

Never talk about March 28. Trust me. And don’t Bing it, either. Nothing major in Falcons history happened on March 28. (Wait, hold on, let me check — nope, nothing major.) Rather, the date was used to mock the Falcons for blowing a 28-3 lead in Super Bowl LI. But I don’t know why you’re laughing, Panthers. At least the Falcons were competitive in the Super Bowl. You lost to a team that essentially had its quarterback take a knee for three quarters, like it was the plot of “The Waterboy” or something. Like the NFL version of “Weekend at Bernie’s” — Weekend at Peyton’s, if you will. So why don’t you knock that stuff off?

The sad thing, though? It was the high point of Falcons franchise history (the leading 28-3 part, not the losing part). But seriously, there aren’t a ton of great moments in Falcons lore — just a bunch of tortured souls out there in Atlanta.

The team was founded in 1965 for the same reason most NFL teams were founded in the 1960s: The AFL threatened to move into the market, and then-Commissioner Pete Rozelle was all, “Not on my watch, fools!” So, boom, you had a team. And then not a lot happened.

The Falcons made the playoffs for the first time in 1978 and beat the Eagles — then lost to the Cowboys. Blew a lead to the Cowboys in the playoffs in 1980. Beat the hated Saints in a 1991 wild-card matchup — then lost to the Redskins. Made the Super Bowl in 1998. Lost. And then lost last year. That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. (Oh, and, yes — pun intended. You know, peanuts? Georgia? Is it just me? OK, moving on.)

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Super Bowl LI is proof the Browns are not as totally terrible at hiring and selecting personnel as perception has it. They’re just abysmal at keeping the people they should keep.

Should we start with 1991, when the late Art Modell hired Bill Belichick as head coach?

I covered the 1990 Super Bowl and vividly recall Belichick, grumpy, sneering and mumbling: “I’m not here to talk about the Browns. I’m here to coach the Giants’ defense against the Buffalo Bills.”

Belichick will try to win his fifth Super Bowl — something no other coach has ever done — when he leads the Patriots against the Atlanta Falcons on Feb. 5 in Houston.

Fans here hated Belichick for heartlessly cutting Bernie Kosar midway through the 1993 season for “diminishing skills.” But Belichick led the Browns to an 11-5 record and the playoffs the next year. They beat the Patriots in a wild-card game and haven’t won in the postseason since.

Modell fired Belichick after the 1995 season rather than make him part of the team he shipped off to Baltimore.

Now Belichick is being labeled the best coach in the history of the NFL. He really hasn’t changed much since getting his head-coaching start here.

What if the Browns had never moved? Could you imagine Belichick in his 28th year coaching them? Even with no Tom Brady, it’s inconceivable to imagine them being as horrible they have been as the new incarnation of the Browns.

• Former coach Mike Pettine chose Kyle Shanahan as his offensive coordinator in 2014. Then after one season, Shanahan weaseled out of his contract and took the job of offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons were the top scoring team in the NFL in 2016 with 540 points. The Saints were second at 454 and the Patriots third with 441 points. Shanahan is using that success as a launching pad to become coach of the San Francisco 49ers as soon as the Super Bowl ends.

The Browns ranked 30 spots behind the Falcons in 2016. Of course, it’s easier to call plays when your quarterback is Matt Ryan and one of your receivers is Julio Jones. But would the Browns offense have been better in 2016 if it was under Shanahan for a third year? Probably.

• Taylor Gabriel wasn’t good enough to play for the Browns, according to Sashi Brown, executive vice president of football operations, who drafted four wide receivers and cut Gabriel when the roster was trimmed to 53.

Gabriel caught 36 passes for 621 yards — a 17.3-yard average — as a rookie with the Browns in 2014 with Shanahan calling plays. That was with Brian Hoyer, Johnny Manziel and Connor Shaw throwing passes.

Shanahan left, and Gabriel’s production plummeted to 8.6 yards a catch in 2015 with John DeFilippo as offensive coordinator. Brown saw no need for a skinny 5-foot-8 receiver averaging less than nine yards a catch and cut him.

Shanahan had other ideas. The Falcons signed Gabriel, who became the perfect complement to Jones. Gabriel caught 35 passes for 679 yards — a 16.5-yard average — and six touchdowns for the Falcons.

Terrelle Pryor led the Browns with four touchdown catches in 2016.

Alex Mack is the Falcons’ center after seven seasons at the same position with the Browns. He is battling a fibula injury. But unless his leg falls off in pregame warmups, he will play.

Former Browns General Manager Ray Farmer bungled things so badly in 2014, Mack couldn’t wait to escape after originally wanting to stay.

Mack is headed to the Super Bowl and the Browns have no idea who will start at center for them in 2017. Enough said.

• Farmer did not draft linebacker/defensive end Jabaal Sheard (Tom Heckert did), so Farmer had no in interest in re-signing him. Sheard became an unrestricted free agent in 2015 and signed with the Patriots.

Sheard lost his starting job at right defensive end to Trey Flowers and still managed five sacks in 2016.

No matter which team wins, some ex-Browns will soon be fitted for a Super Bowl ring.

• I’m picking the Falcons to win, 27-23. Belichick will find a way to slow, but not stop, the Atlanta offense. It would be fitting for Gabriel to catch the winning touchdown pass while the Patriots are concentrating on Jones.


The Cavaliers seem content to take their time signing a point guard after working out Mario Chalmers, Jordan Farmar,and Kirk Hinrich.

Hinrich is 36. The 13-year veteran hasn’t played since totaling 47 games with the Bulls and Hawks last season.

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We look at the reasons why Pittsburgh can beat New England and go on to add to their record six Super Bowl titles.

There are two mouthwatering championship games this weekend and any of the four teams can lay legitimate claim to being the favourites to claim the Super Bowl in just over a fortnight.

You can see all the action from 7.30pm on Sky Sports 1 on Sunday with the second of our live games seeing the New England Patriots take on the Pittsburgh Steelers as an age-old rivalry is renewed in the AFC Championship game.

Both teams are bidding for a place in their ninth Super Bowl which would be a record and the Steelers head to Gillette Stadium having won their last nine games but knowing they have won just three of the last 13 meetings between the teams – including two AFC Championship matches.

However, here we set out our reasons why Pittsburgh can emerge victorious in Foxborough and remain on track for Super Bowl number seven.

We have said five reasons and we could cheat and list the following names on their own – they are that good!

But Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell are heading the same way as the legendary Steel Curtain, the Pittsburgh defence of the 1970s.

To join that Pittsburgh pantheon, the three Bs will need to add silverware to the numbers that will ensure Bill Belichick and the Patriots will be well aware of the threat posed.

The hottest of them all is Bell, who has almost 1,500 scrimmage yards across the Steelers last eight games.

Running back Bell is in sensational form heading to New England
Running back Bell is in sensational form heading to New England

The running-back missed the first three games of the season but is in spectacular form and if, or rather when, he gains more than six yards on Sunday, he will set a franchise record for most post-season rushing yards.

125 yards in the game will take Bell into the all-time top five for an NFL post-season and it’s possible he has 337 yards from his games against the Dolphins and the Chiefs but the third-ranked run defence of the Patriots will be a stiffer test

Roethlisberger is a two-time Super Bowl champion and an almost certain future Hall of Famer. A third ring would see him join Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw, Tom Brady and Troy Aikmen as a winner of three or more Super Bowls.

Running back Bell is in sensational form heading to New England
Running back Bell is in sensational form heading to New England

Time may be running out for Big Ben who has had his injury problems but on his day he is can be the best in his position.

The best in his position is a title that has been bandied around for Brown, and the wide-out owes his team one having been forced to apologise for a storm in a Facebook Live style tea-cup.

Only Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald was targeted more in the regular season while only Green Bay’s Jordy Nelson had more touchdowns from the WR position. In the post-season, he already has two TDs and 232 yards, Brown is a threat and a big-game player who delivers.

For the Steelers to see off the Patriots, all three will have to be on their game and the good news for Pittsburgh fans is they rarely disappoint.

History on their side

Most Super Bowl Titles

6 Pittsburgh Steelers
5 Dallas Cowboys
San Francisco 49ers
4 New England Patriots
Green Bay Packers
New York Giants

They are the Steelers. And they win Championships and they win Super Bowls.

Pittsburgh are one of the most storied franchises in the NFL, and we are not just talking those bumblebee uniforms, we are talking titles and silverware

No team has won more than Pittsburgh’s six Vince Lombardi trophies, and along with three other teams that have been to eight Super Bowls, a win on Sunday will take them clear of the field on nine showpiece Sundays.

When they get there, they win, their six wins from eight Super Bowls shows they have the big-game mentality.

Along with Sunday’s opponents, the Patriots, they have won eight AFC championships, more than any other franchise

One note of caution – in the AFC Championship game, the Steelers aren’t quite so prolific. They have a winning record (8-7) but only a narrow one – although they have won each of their last three (2011, 2009 and 2006).

Defence wins Super Bowls

The Steelers defence has been flying since they put their early season issues behind them. James Harrison, the 38-year-old has perhaps never played better while Ryan Shazier has interceptions in four straight games.

Pittsburgh are a franchise steeped in defensive history and they are hitting form at the right time, with six post-season sacks from their two games. Added to the 27 sacks they made in weeks 9-16, it makes them arguably the most in-form defence of the final four teams.

To put all that in context, the Steelers had managed just eight sacks over the first eight weeks of the season and where anyone has got even the merest hint of joy in unsettling Tom Brady this year, it’s been when they have got in his face.

That’s how the Steelers picked up their last win over the Patriots in 2011 and they’ll need to find a way to disrupt the Patriots No 12 on Sunday.

In Weeks 1-8, the Steelers managed just eight sacks. In Weeks 9-16? They had 27 sacks, and have added six more in two post-season games. Pittsburgh have had limited success against Brady, whether they blitz him or not. But the last time they beat him, during the 2011 season, it was the defence that set the tone.

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