At the end of his career, Brian Finneran played three seasons with a young Matt Ryan, from 2008-10, and while Finneran was impressed with Ryan back then, he’s amazed by how far the likely NFL MVP has come.
“He’s always been a leader,” former Falcons receiver Brian Finneran said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “He always had this knack in the huddle, where he had this built-in deal inside of him. I don’t know if it was the way he was raised or brought up or coached throughout his career in high school and college. But he just got in the huddle and commanded the respect. But he had a tough time really being that guy on the field (who got on his players). When you see Peyton Manning get on his players or even a Philip Rivers or an Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, the way they get after their players on the field, he’s finally doing that stuff in practice, in the meeting room, on the field – he’s dominating this offense. That’s the big difference from last year to this year. He knows it so well. It’s as impressive as it gets.”
Of course, it helps having Julio Jones, who, like Calvin Johnson in his prime, is a matchup nightmare for defenses. Jones had 83 catches for 1,409 yards and six touchdowns in 14 games this year. He has 15 catches for 247 yards and three touchdowns in two playoff games.
“If you’re building a receiver on a computer, you’d spit out Julio Jones,” Finneran said. “It’s just the size, the strength, the speed, the athleticism – he has everything you’d want in a receiver. I didn’t have the chance to play with Julio. My last year was 2010, and after that season, Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith said they wanted to get a little younger and faster. So they went and got Julio Jones. Harry Douglas told me after a training camp practice that first year that nobody can cover this guy. He’s too quick at the line of scrimmage, he’s too strong for bump and run, he’s too fast to play off and not back-pedal as fast as you can. I honestly don’t know. I think the best thing to do is double-team him, keep somebody over the top and hope for the best. He’s amazing. He really is.”
The Falcons need Ryan and Jones in top form if they hope to beat the Patriots in Super Bowl LI. Atlanta is making its first Super Bowl appearance since 1998. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, meanwhile, are making appearance No. 7.
That is, in a word, unreal.
“It’s the most impressive thing going in sports right now,” Finneran said. “It’s just not supposed to happen. With free agency and the parity they try to build in sports, especially in football with the salary cap, guys coming and going – they got rid of Jamie Collins and they haven’t missed a beat. They led the league in defensive scoring. So it’s just, I think, the system. People buy into a system like they’ve done here in Atlanta this year. It just pays off big-time – and when you can do that and everybody’s playing for each other and every single snap counts, you (can have something special). With Tom Brady at the helm, they’ve got a chance to win every game they start. Those two guys are as impressive as it gets as far as an organization, a winning record and a dynasty.”