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Falcons hope to plant a seed of doubt in the young Rams for their playoff matchup

Atlanta Falcons safety Ricardo Allen (37) is mobbed by his teammate after intercepting a pass against the Carolina Panthers during the second half on Sunday.
(Ricardo Allen / European Pressphoto Agency)

The Atlanta Falcons don’t want to talk about the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers or 2010 Green Bay Packers, the only sixth-seeded teams to win the Super Bowl.

Yes, the sixth-seeded Falcons would love to follow that path, but they are determined not to look past Saturday night’s playoff opener against the Rams at the Coliseum.

“We’ve really adopted the mind-set that the only fight that matters is the one you’re in,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said Thursday. “We’re a team that has a lot to prove. We have a lot to prove this week, and we really try to stay in the moment and not look too far behind or too far down the road.”

His players echo those sentiments. Quinn has them speaking with one voice.

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“I love the approach that coach has,” guard Ben Garland said. “You’re not worried about the next game, not worried about the Super Bowl. You’re focused on today.”

That said, if they were to look, the Falcons might find some inspiration from those two six-seeded teams that just sneaked into the postseason and got hot at the right time.

Hall of Fame running back Jerome Bettis was the offensive centerpiece of those ’05 Steelers, who had to win on the road three times to get to Detroit for that showdown against Seattle.

Bettis points to one big similarity between those Steelers and these Falcons. They both were extremely successful the season before, giving them a been-there-done-that swagger.

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Those Steelers were coming off a 15-1 season in which they lost the AFC championship game to the New England Patriots.

These Falcons were on their way to blowing out the Patriots in the Super Bowl, holding a 28-3 lead midway through the third quarter before their historic collapse and eventual 34-28 loss in overtime.

“The biggest part that helps you is knowing that you’re a good football team,” Bettis said. “We lost in the championship game the year before. Atlanta knows that they’re a good team; they lost in the Super Bowl last year. So they know that they’re good enough to beat anybody.

“Armed with that information, and knowing that they have the ability to go all the way, then they can play all-out. Because they’ve been in the playoffs the last two weeks. They had to win just to get in. They’ve been in playoff mode longer than all these other teams. If I’ve been in playoff mode for three weeks, and you’re just getting into playoff mode, you’re at a disadvantage.”

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What’s more, the Rams are green. They’re the second-youngest team in the league, haven’t been to the playoffs since 2004, and have just six players on their roster with postseason experience.

Bettis, whose career began with the Rams, has no rooting interest in this game but has some insight on what the teams might be thinking (but aren’t saying publicly).

He said the only seeding the Falcons should be concerned with is planting that seed of doubt in their opponents.

“If you’re the Falcons, you want to get on top of them quick and put that doubt in their heads,” Bettis said. “The Rams are the little train that could. They’re saying, ‘We think we can. We think we can,’ because they don’t know. So if you put up 14 on them quick, then they’ll start questioning themselves and saying, ‘Uh, maybe we’re not ready yet.’

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“But if you go out there and let them get up on you by 14, now they’re saying, ‘We know we can. We know we can.’ ”

The 2010 Packers, too, were confident in the knowledge they were a good team. Although they lost in the wild-card round in 2009, they had set a franchise record with 461 points (since surpassed), and Charles Woodson was NFL defensive player of the year.

Like their sixth-seeded brethren in Pittsburgh, those Packers knew they were capable of getting hot and going on a tear in the playoffs.

Maybe the Falcons feel the same way. Maybe they will be the third sixth-seed to make a historic run. Regardless, they are not interested in going down that hypothetical road. Put history on hold.

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sam.farmer@latimes.com

Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer


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