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Kragthorpe: Falcons hope to close Georgia Dome in style

First Published      Last Updated Apr 24 2017 09:41 pm


Tribune columnist Kurt Kragthorpe introduces the NFL’s four finalists. Today: Atlanta Falcons.

The Georgia Dome's football existence is extended for another Sunday. The Atlanta Falcons will host the NFC championship game vs. Green Bay before moving into MercedesBenz Stadium next door.

The last scheduled event in the dome is a supercross competition in March. Sunday's game should be every bit as adventurous as that production. A closer look at the Falcons:

Team's theme

Always potent offensively with quarterback Matt Ryan, the Falcons are even better on that side of the ball this season and have improved defensively with former Seattle coordinator Dan Quinn as their coach.

How they got here

The Falcons went 11-5 to win the NFC South title and earn the conference's No. 2 seed. Atlanta beat Seattle 36-20 in the divisional round and got another home game when Green Bay upset Dallas.

Super Bowl-bound if

Ryan performs better than Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers. Quarterbacks can't do anything to stop the other guy, but Ryan and the Falcons' offense will have to respond repeatedly to Rodgers' work, recognizing that both teams will produce a bunch of points. Ryan succeeded in a 33-32 win over Green Bay in late October, throwing an 11-yard touchdown pass with 31 seconds remaining.

Homeward-bound if

The game comes down to a decisive sequence and the Packers have the ball. You just know Rodgers will come through in the end if he has such an opportunity, and the Falcons have a history of late-game failures in playoff contests in the dome. They were stopped by San Francisco near the goal line in a 28-24 loss in the NFC title game four years ago.

Biggest variable

Atlanta's defense. Other than Kansas City, which scored 29 points with the help of its own defense, the teams that beat the Falcons in the regular season all scored in the 30s. If the Packers are held in the 20s, the Falcons should win.

Best player

Julio Jones, receiver. The Utah Utes caught a glimpse of Jones as an Alabama freshman, holding him to seven catches for 77 yards in a 31-17 upset in the 2009 Sugar Bowl. Based on NFL production, Jones was the best player on the field that night. His 83 catches for 1,409 yards this season represented a dropoff from his 136 receptions last year, but he missed two games and Ryan now spreads around the ball more.

Best player you've never heard of

Alex Mack, center. A longtime member of the Cleveland Browns, Mack signed with Atlanta as a free agent and became an NFC Pro Bowl selection. The Falcons' line anchors the league's No. 2 offense, blocking for Ryan and interchangeable running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.

Local connections

D.J. Tialavea, a tight end from West Jordan High School and Utah State, is a good story. Signed from Atlanta's practice squad in late December, he helped the Falcons set an NFL record as the 13th player of the season to catch a touchdown pass. With another tight end getting healthy, however, Tialavea was inactive vs. Seattle. If he's among the 45 active players Sunday, Tialavea will wear No. 86.

Wade Harman, a former USU linebacker, coaches the Falcons' tight ends. Harman was a member of the Baltimore staff for both of the Ravens' Super Bowl victories.

Reasons to cheer for them

The Falcons never have won a Super Bowl, in contrast to the three current or former dynasties left in the playoff field. Franchise owner Arthur Blank is a community-minded person, making efforts to improve the neighborhood around his new stadium. Blank made a societal statement when he released former USU linebacker Torrey Green in training camp, upon learning of sexual assault allegations against Green.

Reasons to cheer against them

While there's something to be said for a new face in the Super Bowl, the Falcons are a rather bland team. Rodgers vs. Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger would make for a more interesting matchup of quarterbacks, historically speaking.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt




 

AT A GLANCE

Preview schedule

Tuesday » Atlanta Falcons

Wednesday » Green Bay Packers

Thursday » New England Patriots

Friday » Pittsburgh Steelers


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