By Larry Fine
(Reuters) – At first blush, perennial powerhouse New England Patriots seem in stark contrast to the upstart Atlanta Falcons team they will face in the Feb. 5 Super Bowl in Houston.
But the Falcons, seeking their first NFL title, have more in common with the seasoned AFC champions than meets the eye, from the front office to their leadership under center.
Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff and his assistant Scott Pioli worked six seasons together with New England during the remarkable reign of coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, who will be playing in their seventh Super Bowl together.
Lessons learned have helped build a contender in Atlanta.
“I go back a long way with Tom (Dimitroff) when his dad was a scout for me with the (Cleveland) Browns and Tom was working in the organization when he was coming out of high school and into college,” Belichick said in a conference call this week.
“He’s done a very good job with the Falcons football team.”
Dimitroff served as the Patriots’ national scout and director of college scouting from 2002 to 2007 before taking the Falcons job in 2008.
Three years ago, former Pats’ personnel chief Pioli joined him in Atlanta after a stint as general manager for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Dimitroff’s key decision with the Falcons may have come at the start when he selected quarterback Matt Ryan third overall in 2008.
Dimitroff said being around Brady underlined for him the importance of leadership and work ethic in quarterbacks, and Ryan had those, he said, in addition to physical similarities, the Monday Morning Quarterback website (mmqb.com) reported.
“Having had the opportunity to be around Tom, watching him, and marveling at him and how he handled himself, ad-libbing in the pocket was one of the things that really got my attention,” Dimitroff said.
“When I started to watch Matt Ryan, it was a major similarity they have. They can create and ad-lib in the pocket before they throw … the similarities sunk in for me on several levels.”
Hiring Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn as coach in 2015 helped him build the roster the right way, identifying the right players for his system, Dimitroff said about what has been a tenet of the Patriots’ approach.
“When Dan came in, he was crystal clear about what he wanted and each of his assistant coaches were crystal clear on what they wanted, each position what to look for,” Pioli said.
Ryan and Brady, eight years older at 39, have even struck up a connection.
“I’m always sending him texts over the course of the season and vice versa,” Brady said. “I like him a lot as a person, as a player, as a leader.”
Ryan, who in college studied game tapes of Brady, has even taken to work out with the same quarterback guru, Adam Dedeaux, used by the veteran.
“He’s set the bar for longevity, aging well and playing at a really high level for a really long time,” Ryan said.
(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)