HOUSTON — Julio Jones and Alex Mack, Pro Bowl starters for Atlanta’s high-scoring offense, were limited in Monday’s practice but Falcons head coach Dan Quinn is not concerned about their availability for Super Bowl LI.
“Julio looked great. For him to get rolling like he did right off the bat, you could feel the intensity. Both of them will ramp up their work the rest of the week,” Quinn said Tuesday at The Westin Memorial City.
Jones (toe), Atlanta’s leading receiver with 83 receptions for 1,409 yards in the regular season, and Mack (ankle), a big-ticket free agent before the 2016 season who stabilized the offense, did not practice last week.
Mack said Monday night he will be on the field this week and start Sunday. Jones has been bothered by a toe injury much of the season and said it’s no longer a factor on game day.
The Falcons were on the practice field Monday and continued advancing installation of the game plan for Sunday’s game against the Patriots on Tuesday. Part of the challenge for Quinn, who said the Patriots have a huge playbook, is getting four rookie starters ready to face Tom Brady. Brady is playing in his seventh Super Bowl.
“We have no control over their experience. What we can control is our readiness,” Quinn said. “The coaches, the early stuff they’re doing just to get ready, I’ve been very impressed. Our young guys are playing like older guys and our older guys are playing like young guys so to speak. Part of the good thing of being young is you don’t have many other things to worry about.”
The Patriots are preparing for Atlanta by reviewing not just the Falcons, but film from their last loss — to the Seahawks in the regular season. Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said the similar traits are undeniable.
“The length at corner, the aggressive strong safety and the speed on defense in general,” he said. “The fact that they all run to the ball as well as any team that we’re going to play. It doesn’t matter what happens on the play, you’re going to have 11 guys chasing the guy with the ball. That’s impressive. That’s the sign of a team that is very well coached. There’s no question that they are. They hit and tackle very well. I’ve been impressed with a lot of the young guys too. Sometimes you get a young guy in the NFL and he can do some things and is very skilled and talented, but tackling has kind of become a lost art. It’s not a lost art on this defense. They run, they hit, they tackle, they wrap and they get you to the ground. It’s something that we’ve seen, noticed, studied and talked about for a week.”
Of the Falcons’ maturation as a defense, linebacker Deion Jones said, “It’s a testament to the work the organization has done. A bunch of misfits I would say. Not all Big Ten, not a lot of accolades. But they found guys who truly fit their defense. You don’t want to let someone down who puts so much trust in you.
“There were some growing pains but as the season went on we got better and better. I guess this is the result of it.”
Quinn said he reviewed film from the Seahawks’ loss in Super Bowl XLIX with one mission in mind: figure out why Brady was so successful in the second half. Injuries — to nickel cornerback Jeremy Lane (broken arm) and defensive end Cliff Avril (concussion) — were a factor, but Quinn was digging deeper for a concern.
“We looked at it just to see the style of how we played them,” Quinn said. “Some of the players are different, some are the same, but it was definitely one I looked at for sure.”
The Falcons beat the Seahawks 36-20 in the divisional playoffs and won the NFC Championship Game in a lopsided 44-21 shellacking at the Georgia Dome. But eight of their 16 regular-season games were decided by seven points or fewer, a signal to Quinn that the Falcons are more than ready for a tight game Sunday.
“When you get in those moments, one of the things we’ve challenged our team on is finish,” Quinn said. “It’s those examples of finish that give you confidence going forward. I can think of no better team that you better demonstrate finish than New England. As a coach, going through the season, you need those moments. It doesn’t mean you’re going to when it all. What it does mean, is you’ve been in them. It’s not an uncomfortable feeling for us.”