The Atlanta Falcons don’t have much experience with the Super Bowl. The only other time the Falcons reached the Super Bowl as a franchise was 1998 and Indianapolis Colts K Adam Vinatieri is the only player left in the league active for that season.
The New England Patriots are in their seventh Super Bowl appearance since the Falcons last reached the most important game in the league- but the Patriots aren’t letting their experience impact their preparation.
“As we get closer to the game I’m sure we’ll have conversations with guys who haven’t been there about what to expect, how things are going to be once we get down there,” Patriots captain Matthew Slater said, “but I’ll say this- when you get to the game itself, I’ve learned this from Coach [Bill] Belichick, it’s not about experience. It’s not about who has played in the game. It’s about who plays well in the game.
“So case in point, Malcolm Butler, had he played in the big game before? No. Had he played in the first and second quarter? No. But when his number was called and he needed to execute, he did. I can be out here, this is going to be my third Super Bowl, and if I go out there and I don’t play well, it doesn’t matter. Super Bowl experience doesn’t matter. It’s about playing well come next Sunday.”
The Patriots didn’t have much relative Super Bowl experience in XXXVI when they upset the St. Louis Rams, and Butler had barely taken the field in Super Bowl XLIX before he made the most impactful play in NFL history.
Anyone can win the Super Bowl- it’s a matter of playing the best game after the clock starts.
The Falcons have a few players with Super Bowl experiences from their old franchises, too. EDGE Dwight Freeney reached the Super Bowl in 2006 and 2009 with the Indianapolis Colts and he is expected to have a larger role since the Falcons lost starter Adrian Clayborn to injury in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. LB Phillip Wheeler reached the Super Bowl alongside Freeney and the Colts in 2009.
EDGE Courtney Upshaw won the Super Bowl in 2012 with the Baltimore Ravens, and played opposite of FS Dashon Goldson, then with the San Francisco 49ers. OL Ben Garland was a part of the Denver Broncos in 2013, although he was on the practice squad and on-and-off the roster and cut by the Broncos in September of 2015.
And who could forget DT Joe Vellano, who was a member of the Patriots championship squad in 2014, although he was inactive for the actual Super Bowl.
So, in total, the Falcons have five games of Super Bowl experience, or seven if you want to include Vellano and/or Garland’s 2013 season on the practice squad. Patriots QB Tom Brady is about to play in the seventh Super Bowl in his career. The Patriots have a cumulative of 37 Super Bowls under their belt with 23 players having Super Bowl experience.
Patriots LB Dont’a Hightower, about to play his second Super Bowl, is downplaying the impact of the experience.
“I mean overall [there’s] not much to it,” Hightower said. “Obviously there’s a lot more at stake and it’s a lot more than just the Super Bowl and the preparation and the execution to that point, but [I’m] just trying to treat it for what it is. I mean it’s obviously a big game but it is a game. You know, one play at a time and all that good stuff but whenever you try to overlook things like that and try to look past that and worry about Super Bowl things – the atmosphere and stuff like that – you can get lackadaisical and complacent and forget what’s going on and lose the task at hand. I just try to do it like any other game week.”
The Falcons reached the Super Bowl thanks to an explosive offense and a defense that buckled down at the right time late in the year. That won’t change after the opening kickoff- and neither will the Patriots penchant for success.