The Falcons of 2015 showed us how to build an impressive fire. And how to douse it just as quickly. Smokey the Bear was appreciative.
The lessons for everyone else were few and forgettable, other than this: Those Falcons provided a blueprint for how to take down the Carolina Panthers. The fact that this modest team was the only thing standing between the Panthers and a thus- far unbeaten season still seems like a whoopee-cushion-level practical joke.
So, just imagine Peyton Manning studying at depth the Falcons plan of Dec. 27 (which seems a little like Stephen Hawking poring over the details of your kid’s science fair project volcano).
Denver will be without the added incentive of having played Carolina recently – as did the Falcons, who were drubbed 38-0 in Charlotte just two weeks before they turned in a 20-13 victory. The Broncos will not be able to catch Panthers yawning. Nor will they possess the taste for vengeance that comes from being so thoroughly whipped and having their noses so completely rubbed into the result (Trademark: Carolina Panthers).
Otherwise, when looking ahead to Super Bowl 50, both Denver and a semi-interested public can ask some important questions:
Can Peyton Manning stand up to the Carolina defense as did Matt Ryan for one afternoon? Ryan was beat up in that second meeting with the Panthers, cementing his image for toughness while completing 23-of-30 passes for 306 yards a touchdown and – most importantly – no interceptions.
Can the Broncos balance their offense as well as the Falcons of Dec. 27, running the ball 30 times and throwing it 30 times?
Do the Broncos have a play-maker of the caliber of Julio Jones, who turned a somewhat desperate heave into a brilliant touchdown grab over Luke Kuechly. A replay of that one will be required viewing during Jones’ future Hall of Fame induction.
Will the Panthers, a normally bloodlessly efficient team in the red zone, suddenly develop an aversion to the endzone? After an initial 80-yard touchdown drive, Carolina settled for only field goals the rest of that afternoon at the Georgia Dome.
Can Denver invade Cam Newton’s happy place. The Falcons did, eventually extinguishing the last Panther hope when Vic Beasley emerged from Witness Protection to sack Newton and force a turnover in the game’s last minute.
Can the Broncos, as much as six-point underdogs to the rampaging Panthers by certain early reckonings, win?
Of course they can.
The Falcons did.