The Atlanta Falcons are a force so unstoppable, they’ve accomplished the impossible.
The NFC champions are making me root for the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, and I loathe the Patriots.
It’s not just because head coach Bill Belichick believes rules are for dumbo suckers, or because quarterback Tom Brady has been on TV screens longer than “Meet the Press,” or because the Belichick-Brady duo has combined to win a ridiculous 14 AFC East titles since 2001.
Remember how every player on the New England sideline was hanging his head as the clock ticked down on them in Super Bowl 49?
The Patriots knew they were going to lose, and then, when their opponents presented them with that gift-wrapped package containing the Lombardi Trophy, they talked about how their faith never wavered.
Rooting for the Patriots is like rooting for the German guards in a World War II prison-escape movie, but I’ve got no choice.
When it comes to any Super Bowl between teams I don’t follow on a week-to-week basis, my instinct is to pull for the guys who stand to take a beating.
Atlanta is poised to give New England a beating.
While I’m not sure about a final score — two weeks provides plenty of time to arrive at a precise number — I can guarantee Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan will convert 12 consecutive third-down snaps into first downs, and that each first down will so deflate the Patriots defense, a touchdown will follow.
Let’s see, 12 touchdowns translates into more than 80 points, which even for the Falcons seems a bit high. But don’t underestimate the potential of a historically balanced Atlanta offense doing whatever it wants, whenever it wants, and however it wants.
Seven days after their dominant performance in the divisional round, the Falcons encouraged us to re-evaluate how overmatched the Seahawks looked. They ran into a buzz saw.
At least the Hawks reached the end zone on the game’s first possession, giving their fans a chance for the quick fist-bump exchange that preceded Ryan’s surgically precise work on the Falcons’ ensuing drive. The Green Bay Packers were taken down early Sunday and stayed down.
The 44-21 defeat concluded a dreadful week for the Packers, beset by injuries and flu germs and a thick fog that required the team to travel from Green Bay by way of a bus trip to Milwaukee. The Pack arrived in Atlanta at 8 p.m. Saturday, 3 1/2 hours late.
Coach Mike McCarthy apparently was unhinged by the delay. His team won the coin toss and he chose to defer possession until the second half.
Putting the ball in Matt Ryan’s hands — allowing a fast-starting offense the chance to score first, instead of trusting in Aaron Rodgers’ ability to make a similar statement — is never a good idea.
The Packers received the second-half kickoff and promptly went three-and-out, putting their depleted defense back on the field to stop what a healthier, more talented Seahawks defense couldn’t stop.
A moment later, Ryan connected with the peerless Julio Jones for a 73-yard touchdown, and the Falcons were up 31-0.
New England’s never-in-doubt trouncing of Pittsburgh in the AFC championship game was equally impressive, but there were some mitigating “what ifs?”
▪ What if the Steelers, trailing 17-6 during their final possession before halftime, had called a first-and-goal quarterback sneak when they were inches removed from the end zone?
Ben Roethlisberger, at 6-foot-5 and 241 pounds, is strong enough to advance the ball for a touchdown, but the Steelers called a handoff for DeAngelo Williams. He lost a yard, lost three more on second down, and Roethlisberger’s third-down pass fell incomplete.
The Steelers ended up with a field goal, but during a road playoff game, on a first-and-goal inside the 1-yard line, settling for three points is the ultimate momentum killer.
▪ What if Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell, victim of a groin injury, hadn’t limped off the field after his sixth and final carry?
Absent their workhorse running back with an explosive burst, the Steelers offense was reduced to a one-dimensional air attack that enabled the Patriots to concentrate on preventing big-play receiver Antonio Brown from making big plays.
In the immediate aftermath of New England’s 36-17 victory, Las Vegas oddsmakers installed the Patriots as three-point favorites over Atlanta. No way. The Falcons offense is diverse, dynamic and capable of rolling up a huge score on a team that regards Super Bowl appearances as an event as inevitable as Groundhog Day.
As a football fan, I’m hoping for a showdown decided in the last seconds. As a realist, I’m fearing the Falcons will win with ease.
So here’s to the Pats. Go, Pats, go!
And if the Pats don’t go, it will be OK. I’m kinda ready for baseball.