It has been a normal preparation routine for the Atlanta Falcons for most of the season: practice at the training facility, obligations with local media for three days per week and then getting set to play on Sundays.
Now, aside from four players on the active roster who have previously been to the Super Bowl, there is a whole new test for the Falcons after they arrive in Houston on Sunday.
The obvious challenge is being a focal point of attention around the world as the franchise has its first chance for a Super Bowl title since it lost to Denver in 1999 and only its second chance overall. But it’s also a new atmosphere for Atlanta with a crucial six days of preparation.
This week will be no typical week with an altered practice schedule and a worldwide assemblage of media that will ask players, young and old, an assortment of pressing questions. Falcons head coach Dan Quinn, who has had the chance to partake in the experience in consecutive years as Seattle’s defensive coordinator, will use that experience to mentor his group and try to maintain a sense of normalcy.
“We’ll try to have fun with it. We try to simulate at times what some of the media questions could be,” Quinn said. “We do try to train them, just to know that the media can only jam you up if you allow it to, and we want to make sure our responsibility is to each other, and that’s one of the fun parts about our team. When we get down to Texas, there will for sure be minor things that we may tweak here and there. But honestly, it’s about going through it again.”
Thirty-six-year old defensive end Dwight Freeney, who has played in the event three times, will try to channel a different type of leadership. Freeney’s impact as an elder statesman has been discussed frequently by Falcons coaches and players despite not seeing a bulk of the snaps or fully participating in a week of preparation. Nonetheless, his addition ranks near the top in an offseason which was one of the best for Atlanta in its recent history.
“Really, it’s not been a lot of different from weeks past with the exception of him reinforcing our message,” Quinn said. “Making sure we stick to the process. For Dwight, he’s got the experience that some other people don’t have, not even coaches. So he’s able to relay that to certainly good conversations for me to help back that message with our team about staying true to our process and getting ready and putting the bulk of the work in this week. So he’s been a great (communicator) of our message this week.”
The players are surely cognizant of the new situation, but the “day-by-day” cliche is often used among the team and the meaning of it is definitely noticed. The Falcons will travel with four former Super Bowl starters on the defensive side of the ball, and Atlanta hopes to avoid the distractions and the blur that comes with playing in such a high-stakes game.
“I don’t feel like it’s going to be any different. I mean they’ll have a lot of different things that are going on,” Falcons cornerback Robert Alford said. “But I feel like these guys in this room will treat it like a business week, that’s all we can do.”