FLOWERY BRANCH — In his first playoff game in the NFL, Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter helped Jacksonville post a monumental victory.
On the way to the AFC title game, Koetter and defensive coordinator Mike Smith, helped the Jaguars post a 31-29 victory over Pittsburgh on Jan. 5, 2008.
Koetter was quick to note that with the victory the Jaguars became the first team to beat the Steelers at home twice in the same season.
Things went downhill for Jacksonville after that big win. They lost to Tom Brady and New England 31-20 on Jan. 12, 2008 and haven’t made it back to the playoffs. Smith would move on and become the Falcons’ head coach.
Koetter later followed, joining the staff last offseason. He’s now preparing for his third playoff game and hasn’t been a part of the Falcons’ recent playoff failures.
“This is what you play for,” Koetter said. “This is why you’re doing it, to still be playing this time of year.”
Koetter and the top-seeded Falcons (13-3) are set to face the Seattle Seahawks (12-5) at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Georgia Dome. The winner advances to the NFC Championship game, one step from Super Bowl XLVII.
“Their whole narrative of who they are, perceptionally, it’s now at stake,” ESPN analyst Steve Young said. “There’s nothing that they can do from September to December that we even really paid much attention to. Go undefeated (and) ‘we are like, oh, that’s just great, but we want to see you in January.’ ”
Well, January is here.
The Falcons can vanquish their playoff woes with a victory. They can extinguish them with a Super Bowl run. They could establish some league-wide legitimacy by earning the Vince Lombardi Trophy on the field of their rival New Orleans Saints.
That would be an entirely new narrative for the long downtrodden franchise, one that has an overall record of 312-402-6 and 6-11 in the playoffs.
“This is a big, huge, big deal that cannot be underestimated, and I think you’ll see the effects of it with this team,” Young said. “They might be overwrought. It might backfire, but I think the odds are you’re going to see something that, I don’t know how you can describe it, but it’s going to be different.”
The Falcons were rather loose at practice Wednesday and Thursday.
The return of cornerback Asante Samuel from an absence after the death of his mother, Christine, has infused some additional enthusiasm.
Samuel enjoyed playoff success early in his career with New England and has two Super Bowl rings. He’s advised the team about what’s necessary for playoff success.
“You have to put aside your selfishness and individual goals because you want to win,” Samuel said. “You do whatever it takes to win. That’s the difference between teams that win and win the big games. Everybody has to have one common goal.”
Center Todd McClure is the only holdover from the last time the Falcons won a playoff game. As the No. 2 seed, they pummeled St. Louis 47-17 in the divisional round after the 2004 season. They would go on to lose to Philadelphia in the NFC title game.
“We want to get over that hump,” McClure said. “We have guys that are hungry who want to feel that success. I believe they are ready for it.”
While the Falcons acknowledge the recent postseason losses to Arizona, Green Bay and the New York Giants, they don’t plan to dwell on them.
“It’s a different season,” McClure said. “We have a different team. We are playing with a lot of confidence right now.”
Backup running back Jason Snelling, who suffered a broken jaw in last season’s playoff loss to the Giants, senses a different vibe this season.
“You learn from the past and about the things you can do better,” Snelling said. “The next opportunity is here, and we’ll be ready to roll.”
The Falcons clearly are pulling out all of the stops and working every angle imaginable to get a win.
“I expect (the fans) to be there a little early so that we can get the show rolling quick,” safety William Moore said. “We’re going to need them. It’s going to be a big environment. We have a great team coming into the dome. Every little (thing) we can use, we need it.”
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