After finishing the 2015 football season with a 7-9 record, the Atlanta Falcons seemed quite far away from being in the championship spotlight.
But, with a young, hungry defense returning with a full season of experience under their belt, that all changed in 2016. Add a couple of free agent acquisitions and a determined veteran quarterback to the mix and you have the Falcons walking with a different swagger. They have taken that swagger all the way to the Super Bowl.
One of the reasons for the success has been the play of former Cleveland Browns undrafted wide receiver Taylor Gabriel and former Cincinnati Bengals wide out Mohammed Sanu. These two solidified the Falcons vaunted air attack and has made Julio Jones, the Falcons No. 1 receiver, even more dangerous.
Gabriel, a native of Mesquite, Texas, and a former standout at Abilene Christian University, has been a welcomed addition. At 5-feet, 8-inches tall, Gabriel was undersized for a wide out, but his other attributes outweighed the variable of height. He is fast and strong. His nickname is “Turbo” and you’ll see why in Super Bowl LI.
Gabriel worked hard to get to Atlanta and now the Super Bowl. After being picked up as an undrafted rooking in 2014, Gabriel clawed his way into the starting lineup after standout Atlanta receiver Josh Gordon was suspended for the 2014 season.
That opportunity provided Gabriel with the platform to showcase his talent at the next level and it ultimately won his a starting role as Atlanta’s No. 3 receiver. In2016 Gabriel recorded his best season as a pro and has been a good addition to the passing game that usually features Jones. When Jones went down with an injury, Gabriel stepped right-in to Kyle Shanahan’s system, recording 35 catches for six touchdowns.
Gabriel is a key part of the Falcons’ offense, which averages 37 points per game. Quarterback Matt Ryan is having his best season ever and has thrown for nearly 5,000 yards to go along with his 39 touchdowns while being intercepted only seven times. He is making a strong argument for MVP honors this year.
Now, Ryan, in his 8th season as a pro, is going to tangle with New England’s Tom Brady, arguably the best quarterback to play the game.
Who will win? Perhaps if Brady looks off Jones once or twice he’ll spot Turbo Gabriel and make the Falcons fly Sunday night.