Patriots vs. Falcons Round Two: Can the Sequel Live Up to the Original?

Alden Newman-Pats Militia

 

There’s a lot of buzz for the Sunday night game this week, and for good reason. For just the eighth time in NFL history, the two teams that squared off in the most recent Super Bowl will meet up in the following regular season. For those of you who are new to the planet Earth, the last time these two squared off, the Patriots pulled off the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, or really in all of sports history, if you ask me. Except for maybe the 2004 Red Sox coming back from a 3 game deficit against the Yankees in the ALCS, or maybe the 2014 Patriots overcoming two separate fourteen 14 deficits in the Divisional Round game against the Ravens. Damn, I’m so spoiled. Where was I? The Falcons. So while seeing a Patriots vs. Falcons matchup will undoubtedly bring up memories of the Hightower sack, Julian’s miracle catch, James White crossing the plane, and every other spectacular moment from that beautiful game, we must realize that this is a very different matchup. I hate to sound like every teenage girl’s Instagram post on January 1st, but we really do have two cases of “new year, new team.”

Both the Patriots and Falcons came into this season with high expectations, and both teams have underwhelmed so far. The Falcons are trying to avoid losing their third straight game to an AFC East opponent, and the Patriots are fighting hard to stay atop that surprisingly competitive division. All I know is that the Pats better not find themselves trailing by twenty-plus points this Sunday night, because sadly Edelman will not be there to bail us out with a juggling circus catch when we need it. Instead, the Falcons are going to need to figure out how to cover the speedy Brandin Cooks, in addition to Gronk, who was unable to suit up for the last matchup. The Falcons defense will certainly have their hands full, but ours may be in even more trouble. The Patriots have allowed 300+ passing yards to all six quarterbacks that they’ve faced this year, including rookie Deshaun Watson and the formerly washed up Josh McCown. I’m a little terrified of the kind of damage Matt Ryan and Julio Jones could do against us. Especially since it looks like the Patriots could be without both Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe on Sunday night. And with Rob Ninkovich enjoying his retirement and Jabaal Sheard wearing a Colts uniform, someone on the Patriots has to get pressure on Matt Ryan. For some reason Trey Flowers comes to mind as someone who might be able to step up against the Falcons.

Atlanta also has some new faces that hope to help them redeem themselves against the team that snatched a Lombardi Trophy right from under their nose. After losing veteran defensive end Dwight Freeney, the Falcons added some serious talent to bolster their defensive line. They signed Dontari Poe, immediately creating a quarterback controversy in Atlanta. 

But after some consideration, Dan Quinn decided to play Poe as a defensive tackle, much to Matt Ryan’s relief. The Falcons also used their first round pick on Takkarist McKinley, a talented young defensive end who will likely cause problems for what has been a particularly porous Patriots offensive line. But maybe the biggest change for the Falcons is the transition from Kyle Shanahan to Steve Sarkisian as offensive coordinator. Shanahan contributed as much to the Super Bowl comeback as anyone on the Patriots sideline. His inexplicable commitment to the passing game, though holding onto a 25 point lead and watching Devonta Freeman shred through the Patriots defense. But everything has not been sunshine and rainbows for the Falcons’ offense under Sarkisian. After averaging about 415 offensive yards per game last season, they have been averaging just 378 this season. However, there’s nothing like this Patriots defense to provide a spark to a struggling offense.

Chances are that the Patriots vs. Falcons Round sequel will not be as exciting as the original (When is a sequel ever better?), but that’s more of a testament to their last matchup being one of the greatest football games ever played.  And as much as I want the Patriots to play 60 minutes of a good football, it would be really interesting to see what happens if Atlanta jumps out to an early lead. I think the last thing Matt Ryan wants is to be holding onto a lead early in the first half. On Sunday night, we can expect two talented teams to battle it out for a victory that each of them needs. If it’s even half as good as the original, then we are in for a treat.