FLOWERY BRANCH — Dan Quinn knows a thing or two about NFC Championship Games, which he twice described as “a battle” regardless of opponent or location.
But that doesn’t mean the Atlanta Falcons’ coach isn’t thrilled to be playing this one at home.
After a day of uncertainty regarding where the NFC title game would be played, the Falcons now know they have one more contest in the Georgia Dome before the venue closes its doors forever. Atlanta hosts the Green Bay Packers at 3:05 p.m. Sunday for a chance to reach the Super Bowl for the first time since 1999.
“What we’re pleased about is the fact that the Dome is closing and we get to be a part of the last game here. What a cool thing that is to be a part of,” Quinn said during a Monday news conference.
“Over the last 25 years, a lot of football has been played in there. So for us to have this one be the final one, we’re pumped to be the part of it.”
That was always the case for the Falcons (12-5), who took down the Seattle Seahawks 36-20 in the divisional round last Saturday.
But No. 4 seed Green Bay (12-6) upset the top-seed Dallas Cowboys 34-31 the following day, giving home field to No. 2 seed Atlanta for the NFC Championship Game. The Falcons last reached this point of the season in 2012, when they fell short against the San Francisco 49ers.
Quinn won the next two NFC title games as Seattle’s defensive coordinator, providing valuable experience for a team trying to make just its second Super Bowl appearance.
“The NFC Championship Game is a beast, it always is,” he said. “It’s as much fun as you can possibly imagine when you get to do it in front of your own fans.”
Atlanta will also need Quinn’s defensive expertise if it hopes to contain Aaron Rodgers, who has quarterbacked thePackers to eight-straight wins. The Super Bowl XLV MVP has thrown for 2,385 yards, 21 touchdowns and just one interception during that stretch.
Rodgers revived Green Bay from a four-game midseason losing streak that began with a 33-32 defeat in the Georgia Dome. Many expect the NFC Championship Game to be a repeat of that high-scoring, late-October thriller that featured Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan finding Mohamed Sanu for the game-winning touchdown with 31 seconds left.
Quinn thinks it could be even better.
“Both teams are different,” Quinn said. “I think both teams, from when we played before, are a better version of what they were at that time.”
Indeed, Atlanta has won six of its last seven games as Ryan has built a strong MVP candidacy. The engineer of the NFL’s highest-scoring offense (33.8 points per game), the quarterback has completed just less than 70 percent of his passes for 4,944 yards, 38 touchdowns and only seven interceptions — all career-bests.
“He has had the grit to not back off and keep striving to get to a new spot, to keep working on the same things,” Quinn said. “Those are some things that maybe everybody else wouldn’t know about that makes me most proud of him. He has not stopped or backed off.”
Ryan will have top receiver Julio Jones (1,409 yards, six touchdowns) at his disposal against the Packers, Quinn said. Jones, however, will be limited in practice due to a nagging foot injury.
Rodgers might not be so fortunate. It’s still unclear if Jordy Nelson, Green Bay’s leading receiver with 1,257 yards and 14 touchdowns, will play after suffering a rib injury that sidelined him for the Packers’ last-second win at Dallas.
But what is certain is two virtuoso quarterbacks will battle for a Super Bowl berth Sunday in what should be an explosive final act for the Georgia Dome.
And that setting could end up deciding who advances to football’s biggest stage.
“When you have a crowd like ours, for sure it’s an edge,” Quinn said. “I think anybody who was in that environment last Saturday night, that’s the loudest they’ve ever heard the Dome. … We hope that same commitment is happening (this) week.”