Jake Matthews doesn’t play dumb when asked the site of Super Bowl LI. The Atlanta Falcons left tackle knows his hometown of Houston will host the game.
“I’ve thought about it,” Matthews, who played at Missouri City Elkins and Texas A&M, said in a phone interview. “That would be a dream come true, going back to my hometown. I’d probably have all my family there and buddies would be wanting to come. There are two games we’ve got to win before we can get there, but, yeah, that would be a pretty big perk to make it.”
Matthews comes from a long line of NFL football players. His grandfather started the family tree in the 1950s with the 49ers. But of all the Matthews who have played in the NFL, only his cousin, Clay Matthews III has a Super Bowl ring.
His uncle, Clay Matthews Jr., played 19 seasons without winning a title. His father, Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, played 19 seasons and lost his only Super Bowl appearance.
Matthews has confidence his Falcons have a chance to do what his cousin did with the Packers in Arlington in the 2010 season. The Falcons currently hold the No. 2 seed in the NFC behind the Dallas Cowboys.
Atlanta ranks second in total offense behind the Saints, with quarterback Matt Ryan having become an MVP candidate.
“It’s been awesome,” Matthews said. “We’ve been ranked near the top [in total offense] basically the whole year. It’s really exciting to be honest. We have the confidence we can go play any defense in this league and put up a lot of yards and a lot of points. Now, it’s continuing to do that and taking it to this postseason and getting all the way to Houston and the Super Bowl. That’s our mindset, because we feel like we’re that good that we can beat anybody.”
Matthews, 24, has played a big role in the Falcons’ success this season. After hobbling through ankle, foot and back injuries his first two seasons, Matthews has played this season mostly healthy.
He has played 1,003 offensive snaps, or 93.8 percent. Although he has allowed five sacks, Matthews has stood up to some of the league’s top pass rushers in the Falcons’ 537 pass plays this season.
Pro Football Focus ranks him 33rd among 74 offensive tackles, with a 77.1 grade.
Ryan and Falcons coach Dan Quinn both have lauded Matthews’ development.
“Without question, I think this is my best season,” Matthews said. “Going into year three, I could just tell I was that much more confident in what I was doing.”
Many offensive tackles highly rated out of college have struggled to transition to the NFL. The Aggies have had offensive linemen drafted in the first round each of the past four seasons, with Arlington’s Luke Joeckel going No. 2 overall in 2013, Matthews sixth overall in 2014, Cedric Ogbuehi 21st overall in 2015 and Germain Ifedi 31st overall in 2016.
All four have found trouble adjusting to the pro game, as have offensive linemen from other schools, including high first-round picks Greg Robinson of Auburn and Eric Fisher from Central Michigan.
“People can tell you what it’s going to be like, and you can listen to all the speeches in the world, but you have no idea what you’re getting into until you actually get out there on the field,” Matthews said. “I think the biggest thing is just getting a complete understanding of the playbook, which is leaps and bounds above anything you’ve ever done before in your life. Then, obviously, you’re playing the best in the world in this game, especially at the tackle position. They’re putting their best stud out there to rush you.
“It’s like anything in life. It takes a little time, but you figure it out, and once you do, you don’t look back and keep building on that. That’s the mindset I have.”
Hicks is sorry
Jordan Hicks didn’t mean to injure Tony Romo. But the former University of Texas star might never live down his hit, the first that sidelined the Cowboys quarterback last season.
“My answer is the same all the time: It’s completely unfortunate the way it happened,” Hicks said in a phone interview. “I think Tony’s an awesome player. I remember studying him and watching his film. He is a phenomenal player, and hopefully he gets healthy and contributes.”
Hicks’ hit on Romo didn’t look as bad as it turned out to be. In a Week 2 game last season, the Eagles sent the linebacker on a blitz. Hicks sacked Romo, unintentionally driving Romo’s left shoulder into the natural turf. All of Hicks’ 236 pounds landed on top of Romo.
Romo fractured his left collarbone on the play. Later in the season, the quarterback re-fractured the bone. Romo then broke a bone in his back during the preseason and has not played since.
Since Hicks’ hit on Romo, the Cowboys quarterback has taken only 120 snaps, including 16 in the preseason.
Hicks said he has not apologized to Romo only because he doesn’t know how to reach the quarterback.
“It’s been one of those things I get questioned about, but I’ve never talked to him about it,” Hicks said. “It was unfortunate he got hurt.”