All Those Falcons Weapons? Some Handsy Patriots DBs, and Tom Brady Used to Have Awful, Awful Hair
Plus, a Super Bowl prediction, how the Dirty Bird originated in Foxboro and much more nonsense
“I put my hand under center for the first snap of the game, and I sent a man into motion. The stadium down there is on tracks, and I could feel that thoomp, thoomp, thoomp of his footsteps, and it was like, ‘Alright, it’s time to play football.’”
That was Jake Delhomme, in an interview I did for the book Super Bowl Gold last year (a great book, of which you should purchase multiple copies if you haven’t already). But I thought it was appropriate for three reasons: (1) That was the last time the Super Bowl was played in Houston (which, as many forget, was an exceptionally entertaining game); (2) I always wonder about the nerves of a quarterback making his first Super Bowl start, such as Delhomme, and such as Matt Ryan in a matter of hours, and (3) I just always thought that was a really neat quote.
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1a. From a football standpoint, there’s really no logical reason this game shouldn’t be close. I worry about situational football from the Falcons defense (dead last in red-zone TD percentage allowed during the regular season). But in actuality, this game will probably turn on some fluke play, like a return man losing a fumble.
A quick note on the greatness of Kyle Shanahan. And, yes, it’s greatness. I’m not sure he’ll be a great head coach, but over the last two months or so, the combination of play designs and play-calling has been as close to flawless as it gets.
There’s been a lot of talk about all those weapons Shanahan has at his disposal. But take a close look at the individual parts. Julio Jones is otherworldly, and the Devonta Freeman/Tevin Coleman combination is outstanding, in the run game and the pass game. Other than that? Taylor Gabriel is a nice situational weapon, but no one’s idea of a starting receiver in the NFL. Mohamed Sanu is essentially a tight end in a receiver’s body. Their actual tight ends, from a receiving standpoint, are one of the weakest groups in the NFL.
Matt Ryan’s drastically improved play is a big reason this offense has gone from forgettable to unstoppable. But when you have that lack of talent among the weaponry and can still pile up points like this? That’s a coordinator working magic.
1b. (I don’t really understand the phrase “case in point,” but) case in point, the Falcons record this season when Julio Jones:
Does not play or has less than 40 yards: 6-0
Has more than 60 yards: 7-5
Has more than 100 yards: 4-4
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2. My podcast partner and therefore best friend according to contractual obligations Andy Benoit has the best take I’ve heard on this game: Officials will be hesitant to throw a lot* of flags. That very much works in favor of the Patriots, specifically Logan Ryan (who was two controversial non-calls from going from “Logan Ryan played a great game” to “Logan Ryan almost cost the Patriots that game” in the AFC title game). Malcolm Butler can cover. Ryan and Eric Rowe are big guys who get awfully grabby.
Surely you’ve heard over the past two weeks: the Patriots are a bend-don’t-break defense. They don’t have much of a pass rush. They don’t have overwhelming talent in the secondary.
So if this defense can disrupt the timing of Atlanta’s passing game a bit in exchange for a couple of five-yard holding calls, and if Malcom Brown and Alan Branch can ruin another ground game, there’s no real reason the Patriots D can’t hold the Falcons under 30 points, which should be enough for Tom Brady and Co.
*—What constitutes “a lot” of flags? For the sake of specificity, let’s say it’s a buttload.
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3a. We spent a lot of time waiting for the Falcons’ secondary to fall apart after Desmond Trufant’s season-ending injury. They’ve more than held up since Trufant went down, thanks in large part to Robert Alford and Jalen Collins stepping up, and the continued solid play from Brian Poole. But the Falcons haven’t seen a weapon like Julian Edelman, certainly not in the postseason.
It was Edelman that wrecked a Dan Quinn defense back in Super Bowl XLIX, taking over after Jeremy Lane went down with a shattered and torn everything in his body. The Falcons can float an extra zone defender out there, but that limits an already mediocre pass rush (Vic Beasley and those long, looping pass rushes can take advantage against QBs who hold onto the ball for too long, but that’s not Tom Brady). I’m not sure the Falcons have the means to stop Edelman.
3b. Quick note on Robert Alford: I couldn’t remember where I’d seen this performance, from the NFC title game, before.
And then it struck me:
3c. Jon Glaser I could kiss you.
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4a. My thoughts on Saturday night’s NFL awards show:
Needs more sponsors.
4b. Also, I get the boss's mentions in my Tweetdeck, and I just have to say: I hope to one day be a Hall of Fame voter. It doesn't at all seem like a thankless job, and everyone seems really down-to-earth. And then I will hug some snakes. Yes! I will hug and kiss some POISONOUS SNAKES!
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5a. My Super Bowl LI prediction: A night of athletic excellence and good sportsmanship.
5b. And also I’ll pick the Patriots to win because of the aforementioned reasons and because Tom Brady now has a normal haircut rather than one more fitting for a Zoolander extra:
5c. One last gratuitous Simpsons clip, both Super Bowl- and hair-related (normally I do subtitles, but in this one you really need to hear for the Howard Cosell bit):
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6. I think we can all agree that the worst part of any Super Bowl is the 7-XL commemorative t-shirts they make the winning team put on immediately after the game ends. It looks like an homage to costume design in Heathers (and also makes all the post-game celebration photos unusable for folks like us). I also don’t understand how it’s a good marketing move. You know how in department stores they'll clinch and clip the shirts on a mannequin to make you think "man, my abs are gonna look sweet in that polo." But the Super Bowl shirts over pads is just the opposite. Everyone wearing them just looks like an a------.
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7. I like that “Mirror on the Ceiling” song and I’m actually really excited to see Lady Gaga at halft—OH CRAP I’M WRITING MY INNER MONOLOGUE
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8. Do you want an outdated bit of trivia that will impress no one at your Super Bowl party? Good!
The Dirty Bird actually originated at the old Foxboro Stadium. Everyone thinks it was Jamal Anderson, but it was actually O.J. Santiago who came up with it, and broke it out on the first of his two TDs in a 41-10 romp.
This was 1998, back when teams did things like travel to Foxboro and kick the crap out of the Patriots. I was at that game, and I remember thinking that stupid dance was gonna catch on. I find that most of my readers are millennials who are taking time out of Snapchatting their favorite Back Street Boys cassettes to read about some football, so let me explain something about dancing in the 1990s… the trend was dances that didn’t involve any sort of joy or spontaneity or creativity, but rather dances that were specific, rigid, brief and involved minimal movement. Like the Macarena, which had come about two years earlier (and which, weirdly enough, I also first heard at Foxboro Stadium, at the New England Revolution’s first-ever home game). So it was only natural that the Dirty Bird, the kind of feeble dance that your uncle’s CPA would partake in at a wedding, would sweep the nation.
So anyway, regale someone with the preceding paragraphs at your Super Bowl party, and let me know how long it took for them to break eye contact and slowly back away. And also, why would you and your uncle’s CPA be at the same wedding?
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9. I fear that I am ordinary just like everyone
To lie here and die among the sorrows
Adrift among the days
For everything I ever said
And everything I've ever done is gone
Seeing as this is the last game of the season, this is my last column for a while and this seems like an unnecessarily dramatic way to wrap things up. I’ll pop in with at least one column around free agency, and one the Sunday after the draft. But I largely spend my offseason time in solitude, like a modern-day J.D. Salinger but without the talent. I also like to shop at Target.
I do occasionally surface on social media, Facebook and Twitter, to be specific. I’ll also be doing the 10 Things Podcast (aka The Andy Benoit Show) once a week throughout the offseason if you enjoy hearing a grown man stumble to spit out every other word. (It’s why I’m so bad at rap battles.)
I have a blast pulling this column together 93% of the time. A couple of quick thank-yous: To my bosses, Peter King for letting me write this nonsense and publish it every week, and Mark Mravic, who does the same and also once referred to this column as “musings,” which allows me to think of myself as Peggy Hill. And thanks to my wife, who I regularly wake up at 1 a.m. to proof the column and tell me precisely which side of the charmingly aloof/outright idiocy line I fall on that week.
And while, as a child of the 90s, I am incapable of expressing sincere emotions, an honest-to-God, genuine thank you to everyone who made it a point to visit this dumb little corner of The MMQB that narrowly appeals to football fans who watched too much Simpsons and Conan some 20 years ago: Duke L., Duke D., Milo, Frank and Cole, the Canadians Doug and Dana, David E.S., Joslin, Brian from Utah, Tom who is leading the charge for my stupid face to get on the Our Team page, Bus, Cousin Meghan, Alex and Adam, Susan (who’s always so nice to point out typos without calling me an idiot), Fitz’s Beard, Jack (who didn’t like me at first but who I think has come around), Kim, Darach and Phil, Keith… and I’m looking at the traffic numbers and that is it. That is literally all the people who ever read this column.
And of course, thanks to the fine folks at Royal Crown Cola, which—if I may put it so humbly on their behalf—is the soft drink of the gods. (I honestly wish I had a sponsor.)
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10. I think, at 6:25 p.m. ET, you should turn your volume all the way up and press play. I suppose we have to finish the season with that Smashing Pumpkins song I quoted above. Enjoy the big frickin’ game!
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