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Falcons Are Short of Playoff Experience

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Falcons Are Short of Playoff Experience


Published: January 8, 2011


FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons hope their home-field advantage in the playoffs will make up for a shortage of players who have won in the postseason.

The Falcons have no players who have appeared in a Super Bowl. Starting with the veterans Tony Gonzalez and Mike Peterson, the roster is filled with players starved for playoff success.

Only three — center Todd McClure and receivers Brian Finneran and Michael Jenkins — were with the team for Atlanta’s last playoff win, in 2004.

The Falcons, who have a bye for the wild-card round, are counting on their strong home record and the added experience of quarterback Matt Ryan and other key players who remain from the 2008 team that lost its playoff opener at Arizona.

“I think the playoff experience that we had two years ago will be beneficial for our football team,” said Coach Mike Smith, who was a rookie coach in 2008. He added, “I think it was a learning experience for us all, not only the players but the coaching staff.”

The Falcons (13-3) earned the bye by winning the N.F.C. South with the conference’s best record. They will play on Jan. 15 against the Saints, the Seahawks or the Packers. The winner advances to the N.F.C. championship game.

Atlanta’s only other division titles came in 1980, 1998 and 2004. The team is the No. 1 seed for the first time since 1980.

The Falcons can advance to the Super Bowl with two wins at the Georgia Dome, where they are 20-2 in games started by Ryan over the last three years.

All that recent home success came in the regular season. The Falcons have not had a home playoff game since beating the Rams in the divisional playoffs after the 2004 season. Atlanta lost at Philadelphia in the N.F.C. title game.

In addition to the three holdovers from the 2004 Falcons roster, the list of Atlanta players who have won in the playoffs is short: running back Michael Turner (while with San Diego), cornerback Brian Williams (Minnesota, Jacksonville), and defensive end John Abraham and safety Erik Coleman (both with the Jets).

The Falcons’ list of players still seeking their first playoff victory includes two of the team’s most experienced veterans, Gonzalez and Peterson.

This could be the last chance for Gonzalez, who has more catches than any other tight end in N.F.L. history, and Peterson, still a productive linebacker.

Gonzalez, 34, lost in each of his three playoff games with Kansas City. Peterson, 34, was 0 for 4 in the playoffs with Indianapolis and Jacksonville. He missed the Jaguars’ 2007 playoffs with an injury.

“I’m just so happy right now,” Peterson said. He added, “I’m just trying to take advantage of it and soak it all in.”

Gonzalez said he would make sure his younger teammates realize that playoff chances were rare, especially as a No. 1 seed.

“Just because you’re 13-3 doesn’t mean much,” he said. “We still have to take care of business.”

Ryan was only 13 when the Falcons lost to Denver in their only Super Bowl appearance, after the 1998 season. He was a rookie when the host Cardinals beat the Falcons, 30-24.

Ryan is bolstered by the experience gained in his three seasons as he prepares for his second try for a playoff win.

“Completely different,” Ryan said when asked to compare the two postseason opportunities. “At this point, I have a better idea of what to expect heading into it because it is different. There are things going on that are different than in the regular season.”

“The atmosphere is really different,” he added.

Ryan had three turnovers, including a fumble returned for a touchdown, and was sacked for a safety in his 2008 playoff debut.

Ryan said he understood it was important to take advantage of the home playoff games.

“The opportunity doesn’t come around that often,” he said. “Trying to make the most of it, I think all of us will have that in the back of our minds.”

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