FIRST PERSON: Dan Reeves
In a weekly feature leading up to the playoffs, former Falcons coach Dan Reeves speaks with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s staff writer D. Orlando Ledbetter about the team’s march to Super Bowl XXXIII during the 1998 season. After 15 games, like the 2012 Falcons, Reeves’ team was 13-2, and set to close out the regular season at home. They would face Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins at the Georgia Dome
“We were trying to make sure that we were going to have home-field advantage for that first game. We had already clinched, but it was still an important game. We
wanted to go into it, play well and win the football game. I was of course still out (after heart bypass surgery). They did good, and I think Steve DeBerg played some in that game (a 38-16 victory.)
“We played it like a regular game. Jack Burns, our offensive quarterback coach, called the plays and did a good job. The defense was under Rich Brooks. They just did a good job and we were a good football team.
“We were better than Miami. It was a game that we should win. Sometimes that’s the toughest one to win. We felt good about the game and we were playing at home.
“There was no thought of resting any starters, because we were still fighting to try to keep our spot in the playoffs. You want to be playing well, but you certainly have concerns. But I’ve always said that if you play hard you’ve got a better chance to stay healthy. It’s when you start worrying about injuries and you don’t play hard. If you play hard, there’s a good chance you’re not going to get hurt.
“You want to have the right attitude going into the playoffs. If you get to a point in the game where you have an edge and you want to rest those guys, maybe you do give some people that need some playing experience some time. We played like it was a regular game and went in there and tried to win the game to keep that momentum going.
“You’ve got to go in there with the same attitude. That’s when you get hurt, when you start trying to save yourself for another game. You have to play it full speed and play like you play all the time, and you’ve got a better chance of staying healthy.
“During the bye week you have to prepare for both teams. We had played San Francisco, so we knew them. We spent more time getting ready for Dallas (the No .3 seed which was upset by Arizona) because we didn’t know that much about them. (San Francisco defeated Green Bay in a wildcard- round game.)
“San Francisco had been a team that had our number. I think we had finally won the last time we had play them that year. Garrison Hearst was having a great year for them. We knew they’d be a tough opponent.
“I wanted to give them some rest, stay on our same schedule as if we were getting ready for a game.”