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Super Bowl LI: ‘Falcons Way’ is a fun version of Patriots’ model

Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff answers questions

Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff answers questions from the media at the NFL football team's practice facility in Flowery Branch, Ga., Friday, Jan. 27, 2017. Credit: AP / David Goldman

There is no mistaking the Falcons for the Patriots. Anyone who has seen one of Atlanta coach Dan Quinn’s bubbly-with-excitement news conferences and compared them with the interrogations of dour Bill Belichick can attest to that.

Their practices have a much different vibe, too. Guess which one feels like a rock concert and which feels like a board meeting? The Falcons have multiple Ping-Pong tables in their locker room, for crying out loud. The Patriots barely have chairs.

Yet the two franchises with seemingly contrasting styles that will meet in Super Bowl LI on Feb. 5 actually share some basic philosophies. That has a lot to do with Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff, who spent six years in the Patriots’ front office before taking the job in Atlanta.

“It wasn’t until I got to the Patriots that I truly realized the idea at the core of the team concept,” Dimitroff told reporters on Friday. “I grew up hearing it all the time, but actually seeing it put into effect there in New England, I’ll take that with me forever. It’s been a great molding idea for me seeing that it can truly work, that it’s not just on paper.”

It’s something he brought with him to Atlanta and now, nine years into his term there, believes he has improved upon.

“This generation, the millennials and younger generation, it’s so important for them to understand the importance of team,” he said. “But let’s call it the way it is. You have to bring it to life. It can’t be all gray and bland. It has to be alive. And that’s what Dan [Quinn] does here. He takes the basic elements of the team concept and he brings it to life for this generation of players who completely buy in.”

It’s the Patriot Way. Only fun.

Dimitroff grew up in football. His father, Tom, was a coach in Canada and a scout for the Browns when Belichick was the head coach there. That was where Belichick and the younger Dimitroff first connected.

“I go back a long way with Tom,” Belichick said of the Falcons’ GM. “He’s a football guy, so it’s in the family. He works hard. He knows the game.”

Belichick said he can see Dimitroff’s fingerprints on the Falcons.

“I’d say the stamp on the team, the thing that I would notice the most, is just the speed, the team speed that the Falcons have,” he said. “They’re either as fast or faster than probably what the average speed of their position is in the league. I’d say that’s a big stamp that he has put on the team . . . He’s done a very good job with the Falcons football team. They’re an impressive team to watch.”

Now they will face each other in a Super Bowl.

“This is kind of a dream game that way, to be able to go against the Patriots and one of my mentors in this league,” Dimitroff said of New England and Belichick. “I have great respect for them.”

Dimitroff and Falcons assistant general manager Scott Pioli both worked under Belichick and helped the Patriots win Super Bowls. They joined forces in Atlanta in 2014.

In 2015, the Falcons added Quinn, who came from Pete Carroll’s coaching tree. Together they have melded what they feel is the winning balance between corporate structure and raw emotion.

“Way back in ’08, [I said] a lot of things were brought to the table that I learned back in New England,” Dimitroff said of his early days with the Falcons. “It’s been fun watching us develop here over the years. There is definitely a New England stamp on it in many ways, yet we’ve really evolved into something that is very much the Falcons and not the Patriots.”

The Falcons Way?

They have to win for that name to stick.

Notes & quotes: Wide receiver Julio Jones (toe) was a limited participant in Friday’s workout, the last one for the Falcons before they travel to Houston on Sunday. Center Alex Mack (fibula) did not practice. Quinn said both players are expected to work out next week in Houston.


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