The Atlanta Falcons rode to Super Bowl LI on the strength of their high-powered offense, but its defense has a chance to join a rare club with a win Sunday.
When one thinks of great Super Bowl defenses, the chances are very good the 2016 Atlanta Falcons will not be part of that group that includes all-time great units such as the Steel Curtain of the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers, the 1985 Chicago Bears and the 2000 Baltimore Ravens.
Make no mistake, the Falcons are getting set to face the New England Patriots on Sunday at Houston’s NRG Stadium in search of the franchise’s first Super Bowl title on the strength of an offense that led the NFL with an average of 33.8 points per game during the regular season and has rung up 36 and 44 points respectively in playoff routs of the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay packers.
But it is that defense, led by All-Pro edge rusher Vic Beasley, that has a chance to join an exclusive club with a win in Super Bowl LI on Sunday.
With a victory, Atlanta would become just the second team to win a championship by beating three consecutive teams quarterbacked by former Super Bowl winners.
The Falcons are, of course, facing four-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady on Sunday as he looked to break a tie with Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana to become the first quarterback to start for five winning sides in the big game at the end.
On the flip side of the coin, Brady will be trying not to join Jim Kelly (four), Fran Tarkenton (three) and John Elway (three) as the only quarterbacks to start and lose more than twice in the Super Bowl.
The Falcons opened their run at the Georgia Dome in the NFC Divisional Playoffs against the Seattle Seahawks and Russell Wilson, who led the Seahawks to a win in Super Bowl XLVIII three years ago.
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Beasley was held in check, but Atlanta got to Wilson three times–with Jonathan Babineaux, Ben Garland and Brooks Reed each logging a sack–and intercepted him twice in a 36-20 victory in which Wilson was 17-for-30 for 225 yards with two touchdowns and two picks and ran six times for 49 yards.
That brought Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers calling in the NFC Championship. Rodgers, a ring-bearer after leading the Pack to a victory in Super Bowl XLV six years ago, threw for three touchdowns and was 27-for-45 for 287 yards, but also tossed an interception and was sacked twice as the Falcons crushed Green Bay 44-21.
The Packers stopped Beasley. But Ra’Shede Hageman and Tyson Jackson registered sacks and Jalen Collins helped set the tone of the game by forcing an Aaron Ripkowski fumble and recovering it deep in Falcons’ territory with Atlanta leading 10-0 early in the second quarter.
Atlanta’s defense has been sturdier in the playoffs than it was during the regular season, allowing 20.5 points and 338.0 yards per game after finishing 25th in the league in scoring defense at 25.4 points per game and 27th in total defense by allowing 371.2 yards an outing.
The only other team to complete a Super Bowl-winner trifecta was the New Orleans Saints following the 2009 season, per Pro-Football-Reference.com.
The Saints marched to victory in Super Bowl XLIV in Miami, dispatching along the way Kurt Warner and the Arizona Cardinals (winner with the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV), Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings (winner with the Packers in Super Bowl XXXI) and Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts (led the Colts to a win in Super Bowl XLI).