Column: Brotherhood only gets you so far against Brady
The brotherhood did its job methodically, pleasing Atlanta owner Arthur Blank so much that he was last seen dancing into the night on the victory podium.
Blank could be excused for his exuberance. The Falcons have only been this far one time before, long before their second-year coach won his players over with a message of unity, love and toughness that landed them in the Super Bowl.
Hard not to get a little giddy about it all.
''I say rise up, rise up brotherhood, rise up sisterhood. One more game to go,'' Blank said. ''See you in Houston.''
The problem for Blank and the Falcons is that the New England Patriots are who they will see in Houston. Yes, the Patriots once again, for the seventh time in the last 16 years, because it really doesn't seem like a Super Bowl without them.
They've got a coach who may go down as the greatest ever. Same with a quarterback who has four Super Bowl rings and knows a little something about being methodical himself.
Oh, and you might have heard about their vendetta. They don't like to talk about it, but it's got something to do with deflated footballs, suspensions and a commissioner who wouldn't let them defend themselves.
Brotherhood can only get you so far.
''We'll see if we can write the perfect ending in a couple weeks,'' Tom Brady said.
This isn't the Super Bowl the NFL wanted, not by any stretch of the imagination. The Falcons aren't a marquee team, and there's a sense that most fans outside of New England are by now more than weary of the Brady and Bill Belichick act.
Worse yet, the biggest storyline of Super Bowl week will be how commissioner Roger Goodell stuck it to the team in Deflategate.
''For a number of reasons all of you in this stadium understand how big this win was,'' Patriots owner Robert Kraft told the crowd afterward, doing everything but giving them a knowing wink.
But this is the Super Bowl the NFL has, and the league now must hope that it gives us a game far more interesting than Sunday's conference title games. Both were decided early, and both were lopsided wins that thrilled the home crowds but probably had a lot of people around the country turning off their televisions.
The brotherhood that is the Falcons scored early and often in dominating a Packer team that had won eight in a row.
The machine that is the Patriots kept humming along in picking apart the Pittsburgh Steelers to put Brady and Belichick in a record seventh Super Bowl.
''This team showed a lot of mental toughness over the year,'' said Brady, who showed some himself by coming off a four-game suspension to have a spectacular season. ''It would be great to finish it off.''
Easy to see the Patriots doing just that the way Brady is throwing the ball and his receivers are finding ways to get wide open. The Steelers had been roused in the middle of the night when someone pulled the fire alarm in their hotel, and it looked like they were sleepwalking against the precise New England passing game.
The reality is that nobody knows how to prepare for a game like the dour Belichick, who seemed to be grimacing for some reason when handed the AFC championship trophy. And nobody knows more about stepping up in big games than Brady, who would become the only quarterback to win five Super Bowls if he can keep it going.
They know the Super Bowl routine better than anyone, having won four of the six they've been in. For the Falcons, whose only appearance was a losing effort in 1999, it will be a trip into largely uncharted waters.
The bookies in Las Vegas think it will be a close affair, with lots of scoring. The Patriots are 3-point favorites and the over/under is a record 59 points at some sports books.
Goodell will be there, because this is the Super Bowl and he doesn't have much choice. Still, it was more than just interesting to fans at Gillette Stadium that Goodell attended games in Atlanta the last two weekends instead of visiting Foxborough.
With the Patriots in command in the second half, they began a ''Where is Roger?'' chant that surely was heard all the way to the league offices.
Brady, of course, said he didn't hear them, and maybe that's true. He's heading to his seventh Super Bowl, so by now he's entitled to the benefit of doubt.
The brotherhood awaits, but it's nothing he hasn't seen before.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg