Sure, there are many similarities, but it’s not the exact same two teams and there’s no championship hardware at stake. So, don’t even think about calling this Sunday night’s Falcons-Patriots affair a “rematch” of Super Bowl LI, okay?
“That’s not going to do us any good,” maintained left tackle Nate Solder. The focus, he added, must be on “The Falcons, this year, this week, right now.”
“We’ve been given really, highly strict rules that we’re not allowed to talk about that game,” chuckled tight end Rob Gronkowski, who didn’t face the Falcons that day due to being on injured reserve.
“Just looking forward to this week.”
It was a theme echoed by most Patriots Wednesday.
“No, I don’t look at the [Super Bowl] highlights. I’m just focused on this week,” running back James White asserted.
Of course, it would be unrealistic – and unwise – to think the Patriots are totally blocking out the memory of that special night back in February as they prepare for this latest meeting with Atlanta.
Yes, the Falcons hired new coordinators on offense and defense this season, but Atlanta’s speed, particularly on defense, was a key factor in New England falling behind early in the Super Bowl. So, the Patriots understand that they can learn from some of their mistakes in that game when they host the Falcons Sunday here at Gillette Stadium.
[wysifield-embeddedaudio|eid="605296"|type="embeddedaudio"|view_mode="full"]“We’ve taken some things away from [Super Bowl LI],” wide receiver Danny Amendola conceded. “Obviously, we didn’t start the game like we wanted to [going down 28-3]. That’s a focus point this week, start fast and sustain drives throughout the game and all four quarters.”
“They’re always stripping at the ball, reaching at it whenever they get a chance,” running back Dion Lewis pointed out about Atlanta’s young, aggressive defense. “The whole defense does it. So, we definitely have to be aware of that, protect the ball, as well as run hard.”
“They look good on film. They’re a fast team, a physical team,” Gronkowski continued. It’s going to be a tough game coming this Sunday night. They’re a good defense. You have to go out there and play your best football.”
“There’s no question they’re a hungry team and they’re playing well,” added Amendola. “They’re well-coached, they fly around, they’ve got great athletes. Their team speed is really fast. We have to have a good week of preparation. Their ‘backers are fast, their DBs are fast. There are a lot of good players on that defense.”
“[I’m] excited to go out here against a good football team,” White acknowledged. “Both teams will be fired up. they’re going to come in here ready to go [on] Sunday Night Football. It’s a good [Falcons] football team. It’s going to be a 60-minute battle.
“We have to do what we do. Don’t turn the ball over. Play for four quarters. We haven’t done that yet [this season]. Interesting to see if we can actually put that together.”
Starting this season, NFL teams are allowed to bring two players back from injured reserve, after players have been on that list for at least eight weeks. Once six of those weeks have passed, players are eligible to begin practicing with their respective teams again in advance of an eventual call-back to the 53-man active roster.
New England has a few players that fall in that category, and one of them, LB Shea McClellin, was back in uniform Wednesday. He’s been on IR since Week 1 with a concussion. If the Patriots eventually decide to activate McClellin, they would have to create a space for him on the 53-man roster by cutting a player currently on the roster (or moving him to an inactive list).
McClellin would be eligible to play in a game again as early as Week 9, but since that is New England’s bye week this year, his first game could be against Denver in Week 10. Meantime, he’s taking a positive step in his recovery by suiting up once again for practice.