Dwight Freeney vs. the Patriots; how NBA teams helped Atlanta

left the , but he can’t escape the Patriots. The organization that often stood in his way from reaching the Super Bowl as a member of the now stands in the way of a storybook coda to his career.

“Yeah, it’s funny,” Freeney said with a laugh about facing yet another Patriots team, this time as a member of the . “It’s like I keep seeing you guys and you’re not going away. Leave me alone. It’s been a great journey to this point. And they have been a thorn in my side for the majority of it.”

Super Bowl week often turns into Legacy Week. With the hot takes largely centering around the greatest coach and greatest quarterback of all time, Freeney’s incredible journey has been lost in the shuffle. But he’s possibly the best pass rusher of his generation, making plays with a rare combination of speed and power since teammates like Julio Jones were just kids.

“That spin move, you can’t forget it,” Jones said of watching Freeney’s early career on television.

At 36 years old, Freeney was the best pass rusher on the field during the NFC Championship Game. It shouldn’t be such a surprise, because he was even better late last season with Arizona. But Freeney’s impact goes beyond the three QB hits and six QB hurries he’s produced in two playoff games. He says he feels a “responsibility” to help younger Falcons like follow his career path. Beasley was 9 years old when Freeney was selected in the first round of the 2002 NFL Draft.

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“Oh, I remember watching him play and taking out quarterbacks all the time,” Beasley said. “He’s been in a Super Bowl before. He’s won it. … He always tells us, Enjoy this moment, but don’t make it bigger than what it is.”

Freeney follows his own advice. He won’t entertain the possibility of a Michael Strahan-like ending to his career, cementing a Hall of Fame jacket by retiring with another Super Bowl title. Freeney knows the pain of losing the Super Bowl, too, and he knows better than any Falcons player how difficult it is to take down the Patriots.

“Year 15, and I’m still seeing these guys here,” Freeney said. “I still have to worry about and Tom Brady. It’s kind of like … haven’t we had enough battles over the years?”

Julio Jones reminisces about National Signing Day. Wednesday marked the return to a full practice for Falcons receiver Julio Jones jersey, but first he jogged down memory lane to revisit a significant milestone in Jones’ football life: National Signing Day. High schoolers around the country declared their college intentions Wednesday, and most of them were probably more decisive than Jones was on his day back in 2008.

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“I didn’t know where I was going,” Jones insisted Wednesday. “I woke that morning. I was like (sigh) ‘OK.’ I had my five envelopes, just moving them around. I was like, I don’t know where I’m going to go. But then I just thought, why not stay in Alabama? People that were supporting me over the years, if I go somewhere too far, they aren’t going to be able to see me play. … I was going to go to Auburn, but I just didn’t like Auburn. They left a bad taste in my mouth.”

Nike Patriots #54 Dont'a Hightower Navy Blue Super Bowl LI Champions Men's Stitched NFL Limited Rush JerseyA lot of college football fans couldn’t believe Jones’ claim, especially because his recruiting was built up with months of authentic jerseys and anticipation. But perhaps Julio shares with me a lifelong appreciation for procrastination. Some of the very best decisions in life are made at the very last minute.

Brady unsurprisingly took the high road when offering a response to Thomas’ statement on WEEI-FM in Boston on Monday morning. “I heard about it. … I love Earl. I think he’s a helluva player. I wish him the best in his recovery.”

It was hard not to notice the discrepancy in competition this season given the unusually high number of quarterback injuries in the AFC that occurred right before the playoffs. Instead of facing a high-flying team led by Derek Carr on Saturday night, the Patriots went up against a Texans team that limped through a majority of the season without a professional-caliber offense.

Brock Osweiler threw three interceptions. His receivers also failed him on a few would-be game-changing plays.

Of course it must be frustrating for Seattle. The Seahawks’ ascension has come at a time where they had to fend off excellent seasons from the 49ers and Cardinals in the not-so-distant past. The NFC playoff picture included , Dak Prescott, and . But like any NBA Western Conference team that was squeezed out recently while weak Eastern Conference teams walked into the playoffs, it’s simply a burden for Thomas and the Seahawks to bear.

There’s nothing wrong with being salty every now and then.