Atlanta Falcons Blog

Atlanta Falcons blog by D. Orlando Ledbetter, the pro football and Atlanta Falcons reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Cover 9@9: Ryan set to become franchise’s first MVP

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. MATT RYAN, MVP:  By the end of the day, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, who has had a spectacular season, is set to be named the most valuable player by the Associated Press.

“Matt has been unbelievable this year,” Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. “He started out strong and he’s only gotten better and that’s what has been more impressive to me. He’s done it from Week 1 to Week 16. He’s done it in the playoffs.”

Ryan, who set to guide the Falcons in Super Bowl LI against New England on Sunday, is not expected to attend the NFL Honors program on Saturday night.

Ryan has already been named the most valuable player by the Professional Football Writers of America.

Ryan, with his pinpoint passing, led the top-scoring offense in the NFL with franchise records in passing yards (4,944) and touchdowns (38).

Ryan, in his ninth NFL season, was is the first Atlanta Falcons player to earn the PFWA honor and would be the first to win the Associated Press award.

Ryan started all 16 games in 2016, and completed 534 of 373 passes (69.9 completion percentage; third in the NFL), only seven interceptions and a 117.1 passer rating as the Falcons won the NFC South and gained the NFC’s No. 2 seed with a 11-5 record behind a club-record 540 points scored.

Ryan set franchise records in passing yards, touchdowns, completion percentage and passer rating. Ryan’s 117.1 rating was the fifth-highest in a season in NFL history.

He had a passer rating of 100 or better in 12 games, tying Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and former 49ers quarterback Steve Young for the most 100-plus rating games in a single season in NFL history. He led the NFL with 9.3 yards per pass attempt, the highest mark since the St. Louis Rams’ Kurt Warner in 200 and the best for any quarterback attempting 500 or more passes, and he also led the league with 13.3 yards per completion.

Ryan set an NFL record by completing touchdown passes to 13 different receivers, 15 receivers caught at least one pass from him and he had 12 multi-TD pass games.

He was selected as the NFC player of the month for September, NFC offensive player of the week twice (Weeks 9 and 17) and was selected to the PFWA’s 2016 All-NFL and All-NFC teams.

Ryan worked on improving his play after a shaky 2015 season. With a better understanding of the offensive attack, Ryan played at an extremely high level from the outset of the season.

“When you start out hot like that, it’s hard to keep it (going),” Shanahan said. “Not only has Matt kept it (going), he’s played his best ball near the end. The toughness that he’s had, the way he’s been a leader and the consistency that he’s had, the numbers match up with how good of a year he’s had. You can watch the tape, too. It’s just been fun to be around him."

After the fine regular season, Ryan guided the Falcons to victories of Seattle and Green Bay in the playoffs.

“Matt is an unbelievable talent, first of all,” Shanahan said. “He went third in the draft for a reason. He’s one of those pure throwers and he’s very good at it.  Matt is very tough. He’s durable. He hangs in there and takes a hit.”

Ryan, 31, appears to be hitting his stride in the prime of his career.

“Just his makeup,” Shanahan said. “When Matt faces adversity, he gets better. He’s not going to sit and point fingers. He’s going to figure out how to work his way out of it. I think you’ve seen that throughout his career. I think you saw it last year. Matt gets better the more he works and he works as hard as anyone that I’ve been around.”

2. EXPERIENCE A FACTOR: Falcons defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux, a 12th year veteran, doesn’t think New England’s experience in Super Bowls will be a factor.

“Not at all,” Babineaux said. “Again, Dan (Quinn) always says that every week is championship week and this week is no different than Week One of the regular season.”

He believes experience will go out the window once the ball is kicked out.

“It still comes down to Sunday,” Babineaux said. “We play on Sunday; we don’t play during the week. There’s a lot of stuff that goes on during the week and we’re going to do what we do and be ready on Sunday.”

 “Julio Jones possesses all of those attributes as physical, dominant, explosive. Throw it anywhere  and he’s gonna get it. What he does for them creates problems, and Bill Belichick knows that.” -- Terrell Owens

“A lot of these young guys on the Falcons, they haven’t played Brady […] You have to have experience playing them in the no-huddle offense more than once.” -- Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. on why he likes the Patriots over the Falcons

“His physical presence would wear any defense out.” – Akbar Gbajabiamila on Julio Jones

Ms. Gaga said she's going to give me her prediction after her halftime show. I'll be waiting in the press box, seat 81.


3. HATERS ARE GOING TO HATE:  Former NFL wide receiver Greg Jennings explains why the Patriots are the most hated team in the NFL:

“When you look at what Tom and the New England Patriots franchise has been able to do, they’re probably hated by every team in the league other than the New York Giants. That’s the only team that seems to be able to beat them in this game. It’s because they win. We [fans and players] want to see other teams win. We are kind of envious because we all want it to be someone different. We all want it to be us and our own team. And when it’s not our team, it’s not fun.”

4. TEXAS CITY ADOPTS FALCONS: Good evening, Memorial City has adopted the Atlanta Falcons as their home base in Houston. In addition to The Westin Memorial City being the team hotel, special amenities were arranged to make the Falcons feel special and at home:

  • In honor of Memorial City hosting the Super Bowl LI-bound Atlanta Falcons, all Memorial City (22 buildings, bridges and garages- 2.3 linear miles of LED lights) are illuminated red and white, from dusk until dawn from Sunday, January 29th through Sunday, February 5th.
  • Arrangements were made so that the ice rink was unfrozen to accommodate the building of the official NFC press conference room located inside Memorial City Mall.
  • On Tuesday, January 31 Memorial City welcomed all credentialed media to the NFC press conference with a fanfare arrival by members of a high school band playing “Deep in the Heart of Texas.”
  • Memorial City’s new 4,000 greenspace is decorated all week like an official footfall field complete with goal posts. The field has is being programmed throughout the week with free public activities and a prime location for credentialed media to tape or go Live.

5. ESPN HATING ON FALCONS:  ESPN commentators offer their predictions for Super Bowl LI. Of the 36 ESPN picks, an overwhelming majority of 30 selected the New England Patriots while six chose the Atlanta Falcons as the anticipated winner:

Picking the Patriots:

Michelle Beisner, NFL features reporter: 31-28

Chris Berman, Sunday NFL Countdown and Monday Night Countdown host: 27-21

Matthew Berry, Senior Fantasy Sports analyst: 30-27

Tedy Bruschi, NFL Live analyst and three-time Patriots Super Bowl champion: 32-28

Cari Champion, SportsCenter anchor: 28-21

Ryan Clark, NFL Live analyst and Super Bowl XLIII champion: 31-27

Trent Dilfer, Sunday NFL Countdown analyst and Super Bowl XXXV champion: 34-27

Herm Edwards, NFL Live analyst: 27-24

Mike Greenberg, co-host of ESPN Radio’s Mike & Mike: 27-26

Jon Gruden, Monday Night Football analyst and Super Bowl XXXVII-winning coach: 34-24

Matt Hasselbeck, Sunday NFL Countdown analyst: 38-35

Tim Hasselbeck, NFL Live analyst: 27-20

Jemele Hill, SportsCenter anchor: 26-21.

Merril Hoge, NFL Live and NFL Matchup analyst: 34-31

Ron Jaworski, NFL Live and NFL Matchup analyst: 31-27

Max Kellerman, First Take featured commentator: 31-28

Suzy Kolber, NFL Insiders host: 34-31

Steve Levy, SportsCenter anchor: 14-10

Randy Moss, Sunday NFL Countdown analyst and former Patriots wide receiver: 32-28

Wendi Nix, NFL host: 24-17

Molly Qerim, First Take host: 28-24

Louis Riddick, NFL Front Office Insider: 28-21

Ryen Russillo, co-host of ESPN Radio’s Russillo and Kanell: 28-24

Adam Schefter, NFL Insider: 34-31

Mark Schlereth, NFL Live analyst and three-time Super Bowl champion: 27-23

Michael Smith, SportsCenter anchor: 28-19

Stephen A. Smith, First Take featured commentator: 38-34

Jim Trotter, NFL Insider: 24-20

Field Yates, NFL Insider: 31-27

Steve Young, Monday Night Countdown analyst and Super Bowl XXIX MVP: 31-30

Picking the Falcons:

Stephania Bell, Injury analyst: 34-31

Mike Golic, co-host of ESPN Radio’s Mike & Mike: 27-24

Danny Kanell, co-host of ESPN Radio’s Russillo and Kanell and former Falcons quarterback: 31-24.

Sage Steele, SportsCenter anchor: 34-31

Hannah Storm, SportsCenter anchor: 28-24

Trey Wingo, NFL Live and NFL PrimeTime host: 27-17

“I’m anxious for our team to get going,” he said. “I have great confidence in our coaching staff and great confidence in our players. I’ve seen them perform all year long. When they had to perform against the Saints and the Seahawks and the Packers, they’ve done it. They’ve beaten two quarterbacks in a row (Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers) that have been to the Super Bowl and been very successful and another quarterback who has all kinds of NFL records. So we’re used to competing against the best and being successful. We will have to be at our best to be competitive against the Patriots and coach (Bill) Belichick and Tom Brady and others.”

7. QUINN TO RECEIVE SALUTE TO SERVICE AWARD: Falcons coach Dan Quinn will be awarded the “Salute to Service Award” by USAA during the NFL Honors program on Saturday.

The award was created to acknowledge the exceptional efforts by members of the NFL community to honor and support members of the military community.

USAA will contribute $25,000 in Quinn’s honor to the official aid societies representing all five military branches.

“Coach Quinn truly embodies the spirit of our Salute to Service Award,” said Vice Admiral (Ret.) John Bird, USAA’s senior vice president of military affairs. “Though he has no direct ties to the military, he’s made it his personal charge to show appreciation for their service and sacrifice. Coach Quinn is a very deserving recipient of this year’s award, and we wish him luck in Super Bowl LI, knowing that he has already made the NFL and the military community very proud.”

Quinn hosted the Second Annual Rookie Club Olympics at the Atlanta Falcons Training Facility, where he invited 100 military members from Fort Benning, Georgia to participate. He and his staff created the event as a way for NFL players and the military community to unite and work together as a team.

Quinn hosted a “Military Day” at Training Camp and 20 military members at each Atlanta Falcons home game game throughout the season. In addition, he provided a special opportunity for families of fallen soldiers with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) this season when he hosted 63 families at the Atlanta Falcons Salute to Service game in November.

Additionally, this past offseason Quinn led four Atlanta Falcons players on a week-long USO Tour through the Pacific, including stops in Guam and Hawaii.

8. SUPER BOWL HERO: Super Bowls tend to be defined by their superstar players, who dominate the storylines in the made-for-TV event. Sometimes, though, the games are turned by low-profile players making important plays.

The big names again are getting the buzz for Sunday’s Super Bowl between the Falcons and Patriots. Most are expecting a shootout with Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones against Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

But who are the nondescript players who could help to decide the game with big plays?

9. ATLANTA SUPER BOWL HOST COMMITTEE:  Atlanta’s host committee for the 2019 Super Bowl spent about 10 hours Friday getting an NFL-organized behind-the-scenes look at how Houston is staging the mega-event.

The take-away from the long day of meetings and tours?

“One, I think, is that we can’t start soon enough,” said Brett Daniels, the newly hired chief operating officer of the Metro Atlanta Host Committee. “Saying ‘it’s two years away, we can do that a little bit later’ — that’s not going to be reality.

“We’re going to have to dive into this when we get back into town on Tuesday and really start planning and preparing.”

Former Falcons public relations executive Frank Kleha is working directly with the Atlanta Super Bowl LIII committee through the newly created Championship Division of the Atlanta Sports Council.


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About the Author

D. Orlando Ledbetter is the Atlanta Falcons beat writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.