After losing in the NFC Championship in 2012, the Atlanta Falcons suffered through two mostly miserable seasons. In 2013-14, the Falcons went a combined 10-22 and fired former head coach Mike Smith.
Enter Dan Quinn, who’s turned 10-22 into 19-13 and the franchise’s first Super Bowl appearance since 1998.
Did Quinn take the Falcons to the next level?
“I think he did,” former Falcons running back Todd “TJ” Duckett said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “I think they had a lot of pieces there already, but he got them to gel. He got them to have that brotherhood that they’re talking about. He got them to have that family atmosphere where they care for another. Fourth quarter, big plays – those are the little details that it takes to win big games and to be in the championship games. They bought in. They’ll run through a brick wall for him and each other.”
Of course, it helps having Matt Ryan, who has had one of the greatest quarterbacking seasons of all time. He’s thrown for 45 touchdowns and just seven interceptions this year (playoffs included). While Julio Jones, who had 83 catches for 1,409 yards and six touchdowns in the regular season, was still Ryan’s top target, the addition of Mohamed Sanu cannot be overstated.
Sanu, at 6-2, 210 pounds, caught 59 balls for 653 yards and four touchdowns in 2016.
“He took the pressure off of (Julio),” Duckett said. “To be able to have a guy like Julio Jones have single coverage and be able to take pressure off of the guy over the top trying to guard him (is big). Last week, to be able to open him up on deep passes leaves the middle wide open and the short routes wide open.”
While Ryan and his receivers have been incredible, the Falcons’ running game has been just as critical to their success, as Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined for 1,600+ rushing yards, 800+ receiving yards and 17 touchdowns (12 rushing, five receiving) this season.
“I feel like they complement each other very, very well,” Duckett said. “Freeman can do it all. I feel like each running back can do it all, but he, to me, is the hard-nosed, tough-yard (guy). He sets the tempo. He sets the tempo, sets the tone. Then when (Coleman) comes in, he’s fast. He adds a whole new element. The two running backs open up the passing lanes for the receivers and make Matt Ryan even more comfortable. Without those two backs, they wouldn’t be able to have Matt Ryan do everything that he can, so it’s a full team effort. The Atlanta Falcons are looking like a full team that’s ready to play, that’s hungry.”
Indeed, Super Bowl LI awaits on Feb. 5. Duckett, who played for the Falcons from 2002-05, couldn’t be happier for his former team – or its fans.
“I’m so happy for the city of Atlanta,” Duckett said. “The way that they got there, they did it as a team and they brought the city in with them. My hat goes off to the team, and I’m so proud and excited for the city. One more game. Just one more game left and let’s celebrate.”