There's no hiding it. One edge the New England Patriots have over the Atlanta Falcons in Sunday's Super Bowl can't be denied: experience. It's a factor never to be scoffed at when the AFC and NFC champions meet for the league title.
HOUSTON — There's no hiding it. One edge the New England Patriots have over the Atlanta Falcons in Sunday's Super Bowl can't be denied: experience.
It's a factor never to be scoffed at when the AFC and NFC champions meet for the league title.
Sure, New England (16-2) has a bunch of young players — 16 with four years or less in the NFL — and the Falcons (13-5) actually have four guys who have played in a Super Bowl: Dwight Freeney, Courtney Upshaw, Dashon Goldson and Philip Wheeler. Don't let that mislead you.
When a team has a quarterback and a coach in their seventh Super Bowl together, along with a slew of players who helped it win the championship just two years ago, well, that's the kind of experience that can be key.
Just ask Tom Brady.
"I've got a good regulation of my emotions and I know when I need to get amped up and I know when I need to relax a little bit, and I think you learn those things," said Brady, a three-time Super Bowl MVP who's 4-2 in the game.
"You kind of have to be right on the edge. It's such an emotional game. You don't want to be out of control, but you can't play with no emotion. You strike different chords for different emotions at different times."
That might sound strange coming from a player who rarely hides his feelings on the field. Just think back to his return game in Cleveland after his four-game "Deflategate" suspension, when Brady was pumping up Patriots fans on hand during warmups.
Yet he insists Super Bowl Sunday calls for moderation in approach.
"It's a long day," Brady said. "I mean it's a long day because it's been a long week because there's a lot of things you're doing. You're doing a lot more things this week than you normally do for a game week. Just to get to the game, it ends up being ... a four-hour game? A longer pregame and a longer halftime, so ... it ends up being 4½ to five hours.
"You've got to be able to have something left at the end of the game. You can't waste it all early in the third quarter."
A quick look back to New England's victory over Seattle in the 2015 Super Bowl shows that Brady and the Patriots had plenty left. They rallied from a 10-point hole to win.
The Falcons aren't discounting the edge of having been down this path. Freeney, who won a ring with Indianapolis at the 2007 game, believes the mental approach is critical.
"I was 24 or 25 or whatever I was," he said of playing in the Colts' victory against Chicago. "My body and everything was just on a whole different level, which is to be expected at that age.
"I think that from a mental standpoint, it's appreciating the moment. Now it's a little bit better, because now I realized through time it's not something that you get to all the time.
"You have to treasure these moments, really treasure these moments and try to take a moment to take it all in. I think I can look at it from a different perspective now, which I'm not going to say means more, but in a sense it's a little more special in a way.
"The first one is always the special one and I don't know if this is the last one or what, but this also is special because I can look at it differently."
There's no looking at the stats differently, though.
Atlanta has never won an NFL crown, is in only its second Super Bowl in 51 seasons of life — a decisive loss to Denver came in 1999 — and rarely has been a contender to get this far.
Since Brady became New England's starter, he ranks first in postseason wins (24), passing attempts (1,263), completions (788), yards (8,628) and touchdowns (61). He has the most multi-touchdown games (19) and most career 300-yard games (11) in NFL playoff history. He will also become the first player to appear in seven Super Bowls, and with a victory would have the most rings, tied with Charles Haley.
Quite the resume. Plus, his surrounding cast includes some major contributors in other Super Bowls: Julian Edelman, LeGarrette Blount, Rob Ninkovich, Devin McCourty, Stephen Gostkowski ... shall we go on?
"Our role always changes," Brady said, "and still as a leader and as a veteran I still can express things to my younger teammates and see the things that they're going through, and try to help them through those things because I've been through those things.
"I'm so on them about maximizing their potential and actualizing the things that they want to achieve because I've had people that really mentored me. And if I can do that for other players, I love that."
NEW ENGLAND (16-2) Vs. ATLANTA (13-5)
Sunday, 6:30 p.m. EST, Fox
OPENING LINE: Patriots by 3
SERIES RECORD: Patriots lead 7-6
LAST MEETING: Patriots beat Falcons 30-23 at Georgia Dome, Sept. 29, 2013
LAST GAME: Patriots beat Steelers 36-17 in AFC championship, Jan. 22; Falcons beat Packers 44-21 in NFC championship, Jan. 22
STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES: This is first playoff meeting between Patriots and Falcons. ... Patriots have won last four regular-season meetings. ... New England is playing its NFL-record ninth Super Bowl. Atlanta is making franchise's second trip to Super Bowl. ... Game is matchup of Atlanta's top scoring offense (33.8 points per game) and New England's defense, which is allowing NFL-low 15.6 points per game. It is sixth time since 1970 merger that Super Bowl is matchup of top scoring team and team allowing fewest points. Better defensive team has gone 5-1 in those meetings ... Since 2001, Patriots have won four Super Bowls, most in NFL. ... Patriots have 31-19 (.620) all-time postseason record, second-highest winning percentage in playoff history. ... Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are winningest coach and quarterback combination in postseason history, taking 24 games together. Next are Chuck Noll and Terry Bradshaw with 14. ... Sunday marks Belichick's 36th playoff game, tying him with Tom Landry and Don Shula for most by head coach. ... Belichick is 4-1 against Falcons as Patriots coach. ... Brady is playing in seventh Super Bowl, most by any NFL player. Win would give Brady five Super Bowl victories as starter, breaking tie with Joe Montana and Bradshaw for most by quarterback. It would also tie Brady with Charles Haley, who is only player with five Super Bowl wins. Bart Starr is only other quarterback with five NFL championships, winning three before Super Bowls began. ... Brady ranks first all-time in postseason wins (24), passing attempts (1,263), completions (788), yards (8,628) and touchdowns (61). He has most multi-touchdown games (19) and most career 300-yard games (11) in NFL playoff history. ...RB LeGarrette Blount has eight rushing TDs in seven career postseason games. ... WR Julian Edelman ranks seventh in NFL postseason history with 84 receptions. ... LB Rob Ninkovich has 1 1-2 sacks in past two Super Bowl appearances. He has six career postseason sacks. ...CB Logan Ryan has 16 tackles and interception in past two postseason games. ... K Stephen Gostkowski has eight winning kicks in his career, but just one in playoffs — back in 2007. ... Falcons coach Dan Quinn is making third Super Bowl appearance in four years, having served as defensive coordinator for Seattle in Super Bowls 48 and 49. Seahawks won vs. Denver and lost to New England. ... Matt Ryan is first quarterback in NFL history with three or more passing TDs in four consecutive playoff games. ... Ryan set franchise record and ranked second in NFL with 4,944 passing yards. ...In Ryan's past six games (including playoffs), he has 1,861 passing yards, 18 TDs and no interceptions. ... WR Julio Jones was All-Pro for second straight season with 83 catches, 1,409 yards and six TDs. He has 15 receptions, 247 yards and three TDs in postseason. ... RB Devonta Freeman has 829 yards from scrimmage (497 rush, 332 receiving) and 10 TDs (nine rushing, one receiving) in his past eight games, including playoffs. ...DE Dwight Freeney has 10 career postseason sacks, fourth among active players. ...LB Vic Beasley Jr. led NFL with 15 1-2 sacks. ...LB Deion Jones (106) and S Keanu Neal (105) led NFL rookies in tackles. ... Fantasy Tip: Kickers could play big role in this one. Patriots have won their four Super Bowls by total of just 13 points. Atlanta's Matt Bryant led NFL in scoring with 158 points.