Falcons, Eagles flying in different directions

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Falcons, Eagles flying in different directions

From Comcast SportsNetPHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Asante Samuel stared directly at his former team's sideline and started trash-talking right after the coin toss. By the fourth quarter, Samuel was dancing on the field between plays.Matt Ryan made it easy for his loquacious teammate to gloat.Ryan threw touchdown passes on Atlanta's first three possessions against the Eagles and new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, and the Falcons remained the NFL's only unbeaten team with a convincing 30-17 win over Philadelphia on Sunday."We're 7-0 over here baby," Samuel said. "If I was over there now, they have to go to work."The Falcons are 7-0 for the first time in the franchise's 47-year history while the Eagles (3-4) lost after a bye for the first time in 14 games under coach Andy Reid since 1999."That was an embarrassing performance," Reid said. "I'm stating the obvious. We need to get better. I need to do a better job. This is fixable. We have the talent."Ryan finished 22 of 29 for 262 yards and three TDs for his first win against his hometown team in three tries.Michael Vick didn't turn the ball over for once, but he played so-so and failed to beat his former team in his second start against the Falcons since returning to the NFL in 2009."Whatever decision coach makes, I support it," Vick said when asked about possibly being benched for rookie Nick Foles. "I know I'm giving it everything I have when I'm out there."Reid said he's going to evaluate whether he makes a quarterback change. The defense was the problem against Atlanta, however.The Falcons scored on their first six possessions before punting for the first time with 5:35 left."When you do that, it's going to be a good day," Ryan said.This was a validation win for Atlanta. The Falcons entered with no victories over a team with a winning record and their opponents were a combined 13-24 going into this weekend. Perhaps that's why they were a surprising 3-point underdog despite Philadelphia's recent struggles."We like to have a lot of fun," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "We have a very mature group. We have a bunch of guys who are mentors. We're good at focusing on the task at hand. We're on point when we kick off and guys have done a good job focusing all season."Reid's Eagles have lost three in a row since starting 3-1. Reid fired Juan Castillo and replaced him with Bowles two days after Philadelphia blew its second straight fourth-quarter lead in an overtime loss to Detroit.Clearly, it didn't work.Castillo's defense allowed 18.5 points per game, excluding two TD returns against the offense. Bowles' D allowed 21 points in the first 24 minutes and couldn't make a stop until the fourth quarter."I did what I did and what I thought was right at the time," Reid said about the switch. "We need to get better there."A sellout crowd anticipating a pending storm expected to hit the East Coast soon started filtering out in the third quarter. Those who stuck around booed the Eagles off the field, though one guy chanted "E-A-G-L-E-S" in the final minute.The anti-Reid fans may be seeing him in his final months with the team. Owner Jeffrey Lurie already stated before the season that another 8-8 finish would be "unacceptable."The Falcons methodically drove 80 yards on 16 plays on the opening possession, converting five third downs. A holding call on defensive end Jason Babin kept the drive going after Ryan threw an incomplete pass on third-and-10. Ryan then threw a 15-yard TD pass to Drew Davis for a 7-0 lead.Ryan tossed a 3-yard TD pass to Jason Snelling to make it 14-0. Penalties on Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Mychal Kendricks on separate third downs kept Atlanta's drive going.After going three-and-out on the first series, the Eagles put it together on the next drive by mixing in seven runs among their 13 plays. LeSean McCoy scored from the 2 to cut it to 14-7.But the Falcons answered quickly. Ryan connected with Julio Jones over Nnamdi Asomugha for the 63-yard score to put Atlanta up 21-7.Atlanta converted their first nine third-down tries, including three by penalty. The Eagles finally held in the final minute of the second quarter and Matt Bryant's 43-yard field goal gave the Falcons a 24-7 halftime lead. Bryant kicked field goals of 29 and 30 on the next two drives.The Eagles made it 30-17 on Vick's 7-yard TD pass to McCoy in the fourth quarter.Samuel had 25 interceptions and went to three Pro Bowls in four seasons in Philadelphia before the acquisitions of Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie forced him out. He was traded to the Falcons for a seventh-round pick in April and enjoyed his return to Lincoln Financial Field."I love the fans," he said. "They can boo me. They can cheer for me. Doesn't do anything but add fuel to the fire."NOTES:The Falcons won in Philadelphia for the first time since Oct. 30, 1988. They were 0-6 with two playoff losses. ... Neither team had a turnover. ... The Eagles got their first sack in four games since Week 3. ... Eagles rookie Dennis Kelly took his first snap in the NFL, starting for the injured Danny Watkins (ankle) at RG. ... Kendricks was benched for the first series for disciplinary reasons. Casey Matthews took his place at strongside LB. ... Falcons coach Mike Smith moved past Dan Reeves into first place on the club's all-time list with 50 wins.

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

For all the flack that Matt Ryan got heading into this season, he’s been a damn good quarterback. Is his career on the same level as Tom Brady’s? Of course not, but this regular season saw him stand as Brady’s peer, making him an MVP favorite.

One of Ryan’s biggest challengers for that hardware is the same man who stands in the way of him winning his first Super Bowl. Though he missed the first four games of the season due to suspension, Brady finished second in the league in passing yards per game and threw just two picks in 12 games while tossing 28 touchdowns.  

So Super Bowl LI will pin the quarterback with the best numbers overall (Ryan finished two touchdowns behind Aaron Rodgers for the league lead but threw for 516 more yards and had a higher completion percentage) against the quarterback with the best touchdown/interception ratio ever for a single season. 

In other words, this is a Super Bowl that puts what one could argue are the season’s two best quarterbacks each other. That’s pretty rare. 

Going back the last 25 years, there are four candidates for such meetings: Manning vs. Brees in Super Bowl XLIV, Favre and Elway in Super Bowl XXXII (this one is a stretch), Favre and Bledsoe in Super Bowl XXXI and Kelly and Rypien in Super Bowl XXVI.. 

Why haven’t the two best quarterbacks squared off in the Super Bowl more often? Because Brady and Peyton Manning played their entire careers in the same conference, silly. It’s taken other players entering their echelon to even set up such a scenario, and that’s why Brees’ Saints beating Manning’s Colts serves as the only example during Manning or Brady’s career. 

The strong performances of those who dominated the regular season have often carried over into their Super Bowl meetings, but not always. Drew Bledsoe and Jim Kelly (both throwing two touchdowns and four picks in Super Bowl losses) are examples of the wheels falling off in the final game. 

Here’s a breakdown of past occurrences. Note that all four of them saw the winning team score at least 30 points, something the Pats have done just once in Brady's four Super Bowl wins: 

Super Bowl XLIV: Brees vs. Manning

Brees led NFL with 34 touchdowns in regular season; Manning finished tied for second with 33

Final score: Saints 31, Colts 17

Brees: 32/39, 288 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Manning: 31/45, 333 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Brees completed a postseason in which he had no turnovers and did so in a nearly exactly average game for him that season, as e averaged 292.5 yards, 2.26 touchdowns and less than one interception per game in the regular season. The two quarterbacks also combined for just one sack. 
 
Super Bowl XXXII: Favre vs. Elway

Favre led NFL with 35 TDs in regular season, Elway finished second in TD/interception ratio

Final score: Broncos 31, Packers 24

Favre: 25/42, 256 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, fumble lost 
Elway: 12/22, 123 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Again, this is the forced one because Jeff George (3,917 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, nine interceptions) had the better regular season than Elway (3,635 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, 11 picks). Elway may have been the winning quarterback, but he didn’t have anything to do with the win. Terrell Davis carried the Broncos, playing through a migraine and rushing for 157 yards with three touchdowns en route to Super Bowl MVP honors. 

Super Bowl XXXI: Favre vs. Bledsoe

Favre led NFL with 39 TDs, Bledsoe third with 27

Final Score: Packers 35, Patriots 21

Favre: 14/27, 246 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Bledsoe: 25/48, 253 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT

Both quarterbacks took five sacks in this game. For Bledsoe, it was the most he took all season. The game was the third four-pick performance of his NFL career. 

Super Bowl XXVI: Kelly vs. Rypien

Kelly led NFL with 33 TDs, Rypien second with 28

Final score: Redskins 37, Bills 24

Rypien: 18/33, 292 yards, 2 TD, INT
Kelly: 28/58, 275 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT, fumble lost

Turns out five turnovers (and being sacked four times) is not a recipe for winning the Super Bowl. Kelly’s 58 passes thrown set a Super Bowl record.
 

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Working for the Patriots makes you attractive to other teams. Many have left, but Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli are finally showing that major success can be attained in the process. 

Dimitroff and Pioli have built a team in Atlanta that will play for the franchise’s first Super Bowl title on Feb. 5. While many have been hired away from Bill Belichick's Patriots to lead other organizations, Dimitroff is the first of the defectors to get to the Super Bowl on his own. Adding an old friend in Pioli has played a part in that. 

Dimitroff served as New England’s director of college scouting from 2003 through 2007 before becoming Atlanta’s general manager in 2008. He hired Pioli in 2014 as an assistant GM after the longtime Patriots director and vice president of player personnel had a messy stint as the Chiefs’ GM. 

Executives and coaches (even Field Yates; yes, the fair-haired boy from the television) leaving the Patriots for better positions with other organizations has been common, but with the new positions have often come diminished success compared to New England. 

Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Bill O’Brien, Charlie Weis (in his brief return to the NFL in 2010) and Josh McDaniels make up the list of coordinators who have left winning with the Patriots to experience a dropoff without Brady and Belichick. John Robinson (Titans), Jason Licht (Buccaneers) and Bob Quinn (Lions) currently serve as GMs elsewhere, while former Pats secondary coach Joe Collier works with Dimitroff and Pioli as the Falcons’ director of pro personnel. 

It’s only fitting that Dimitroff and Pioli will have to go through Belichick in order to secure a title on their own. Winning without Belichick has proven hard enough for his former colleagues; winning against him will be even harder.