Good morning! Welcome to the special Super Bowl edition of The Cover 9@9 blog. Normally it is a weekly blog of everything you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons, which is 9 items published at 9 a.m. each Wednesday morning. This week from Houston, we will be live each morning at 9 a.m. with the Super Bowl edition of Cover 9@9!
1. PLAYING ROOKIES: Most coaches hate playing rookies because they know mistakes will flow. It's just too hard making the jump from the collegiate ranks to the NFL.
A big part of the Falcons climb to the Super Bowl has been the play of rookies Keanu Neal (safety), Deion Jones (middle linebacker), De'Vondre Campbell (weakside linebacker) and Brian Poole (nickel cornerback) on defense. Also, tight end Austin Hooper has contributed on offense.
"He’s a guy who’s going to develop young talent," general manager Thomas Dimitroff said of Falcons coach Dan Quinn. "He has all kinds of nerve to go into this season and start four rookie defensive players. To me, that’s amazing."
Quinn and his coaching staff made it a habit to correct the mistakes during their "Tell the Truth" film sessions on Monday. The rookies have been quick studies.
"I have had countless personnel men call me and laud Dan for that,"
Dimitroff said. "That’s what personnel men want. That’s what general managers want. They want to be able to work with a head coach who is open to developing.
"In today’s world, if you don’t develop your players now, three years from now, those players don’t reach their potential, you are not really sure if you’re cutting them prematurely or not."
The Falcons plan to keep relying on Quinn's developmental -- Plan D -- in the future.
"I believe whatever we do, however we approach this, if we do release a player down the road, whether if we acquired them in free agency or in the draft, we’ll have a very, very good idea of what they are because of Dan’s approach to developing players and our coaching staff’s approach," Dimitroff said.
Quinn clearly sets the pace for the franchise.
“Look, the reality is that you go as your head coach goes in this league," Dimitroff said. "We know we go as the quarterback goes, but as far as the culture, the head coach is going to be a major tone setter. That’s just how it is.”
2. BACKPACK GATE AVERTED: In the middle of the staged circus that has become the NFL’s Opening Night, Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan nearly loss the team’s offensive game plan.
It used to be Media Day on a Tuesday, but it has turned into a television production for the league’s station, the NFL Network.
Shanahan, soon to be head coach of the San Francisco, almost lost his backpack containing the game plan.
With Opening Night, which was held in a baseball stadium, the Houston Astros’ Minute Maid Park, the stars were up on podiums. Shanahan was off to the side in the right-field baseball stands. He placed the backpack down in a group of backpacks along with the media members.
After about an hour interview session, Shanahan and a security guard for the Falcons spent nearly 15 minutes looking for the lost backpack, according to USA Today.
"I've got to find it," Shanahan told USA Today during his intense search.
The first theory on Shanahan's backpack?
The Patriots stole it. Back-pack gate!
But there was just a mix-up.
Art Spander, a long-time columnist for the San Francisco Examiner, had accidentally grabbed Shanahan's bag.
Shanahan, who’s set to sign a six-year contract to become the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, will likely be able to hire someone to carry his backpack for him a few days.
3. HALFTIME PLAN: Quinn is stressing to the players some of the different timing issues of playing in the Super Bowl.
"Halftimes are longer," Quinn said. "Pregame is longer, but I’ll share that with them. At the same time, I want to make sure we feel that process of getting ready in our groups together because that’s what allows us to play our best.”
4. GASH PARTY?: Shanahan is trying to devise a game plan that will allow the Falcons to gash the Patriots' defense.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan completed 29-of-58 passes on attempts of 21-or-more yards (air yards) for 1,099 yards, 10 touchdowns and a passer rating of 135.4
The Falcons have recorded eight plays of 20-plus yards this postseason.
5. JULO JONES’ NFL INJURY HISTORY: Combed through the injury reports and AJC archives to come up with Julio Jones' injury history. He's played all 16 games just once over six seasons:
2011 – 13 games starter/13 games played – Pulled hamstring; left game and missed the next one. Also was listed as probable on the injury report with a back, ankle and thumb injuries over the course of the season.
2012 – 16/15 – Twisted ankle; had to leave the game. He was also listed on the injury report as probable with a thigh and twice with a hand injury.
2013 – 5/5 – Pulled hamstring and missed exhibition season. He was questionable for four games with a knee injury. Re-fractured the same left foot hurt during combine. Needed a new – bigger – screw surgically inserted into the fifth metatarsal and finished the season on injured reserve.
2014 – 15/15 – Suffered hamstring injury against Eagles. Hip pointer suffered in Week 14, missed the next game.
2015 – 16/16 – Healthy for the season. He led the league in receptions (136) and yards receiving (1,871).
2016 –14/14 – Ankle, week one. Calf, week two and was questionable for game three; Hamstring –Week 4; Knee -- Week 6; Knee – Week 9; Shoulder – Week 12; Toe -- Week 14 Questionable; toe – Week 15 out; toe – week 16; toe -- Week 17 toe – conference championship; Toe – Super Bowl.
6. PRO BOWL SHARES: The six Falcons who gladly missed playing in the Pro Bowl received a compromised share of $45,500. The winners received $61,000 and the loser's $30,000.
Running back Devonta Freeman, Ryan, Jones, kicker Matt Bryant, linebacker Vic Beasley, Jr., and center Alex Mack were the Falcons' Pro Bowlers.
7. WINNING GOT BORING: Dimitroff knows what it's like to be on top of the NFL from his days in New England.
"We got to a point in New England in the mid 2000s that we were winning so many games, especially the year that I left, that 2007 season, the Patriots were blowing people out at rates that none of us had seen before," Dimitroff said. "It almost became boring going to games because if you weren’t beating them by 40 points, it was a little bit of let down. It was the most unreal thing in the world."
8. REACHING THE MILLENNIALS: Quinn may have a side gig speaking to corporations about how to reach the millennials and make them productive in the work place.
"The millennials and the younger generation, I think it’s so important for them to understand the importance of team of course, but let’s call it the way it is, you have to bring it to life," Dimitroff said. "It can’t be all gray and bland. It has to be alive."
Quinn has several tactics including rap music at practice, basketball games, ping pong tables in the locker room that maintains a lively atmosphere.
"That’s what Dan does here," DimItroff said. "He takes the basic elements of the team concepts and brings it to life for this generation of players, who completely buy in.”
9. DIMITROFF, PIOLI ROLE REVERSAL: In New England, Dimitroff worked under Scott Pioli. Here, Pioli is Dimitroff 's assistant.
"Scott was my boss for six years there," Dimitroff said. "I was very mindful of the lines (of communication). We had very definitive lines in that organization.
"I would talk to Scott at levels and He would go into Bill (Belichick's office) and they would have their talks. It’s very similar here. I have a lot of good discussions with Scott."
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: FALCONS 44, PACKERS 21
NFC DIVISIONAL ROUND: FALCONS 36, SEAHAWKS 20