Atlanta Falcons defensive passing game coordinator Jerome Henderson expected to play the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game. As soon as the Falcons beat the Seattle Seahawks in a divisional-round game, Henderson began studying his former team.
But the Cowboys lost to the Green Bay Packers the next day on a last-play field goal.
“I thought for sure,” Henderson said. “…It was like you look at that team that Jason [Garrett] put together along with Stephen [Jones] and with Jerry [Jones], Will McClay. It was a phenomenal team. It was unbelievable what they did this year, I thought, and how well they played. I thought for sure we were going to go through Dallas. And then it happened that the game ended up there in Atlanta and was excited about that, to get the last home game especially the last game in the stadium. I guess it was kind of a storybook ending. So now we’ve just got to take the last step.”
Henderson spent four years in Dallas working with the Cowboys secondary. He left after the 2015 season when his contract expired.
“Love those guys, all those guys,” Henderson said. “I was with a lot of those guys for a long time and in that locker room, and a lot of those guys, they’re going to be lifelong friends, and we’ll talk all the time. You leave a place, but you always leave a part of you behind. It’s just a part of it. You spent so many hours in that building and working alongside those guys.”
Henderson defended the two-deep zone defense Rod Marinelli called against Aaron Rodgers with 12 seconds remaining. In a tie game, the Packers faced third-and-20 from their own 32.
Rodgers completed a 35-yard pass to Jared Cook with 3 seconds left, and from the Dallas 33, Mason Crosby kicked a 51-yarder as time expired for a 34-31 win.
“You think, gosh, you could see a bunch of coordinators calling that same exact thing in that same exact situation,” Henderson said. “That is just in that moment a great player making a great play to lift his team. That’s what this league is about, about great players doing things that you can’t coach. Even you saw him on TV, he’s, ‘Hey, you go here,’ like he was kind of drawing it up on his hand. Then, the throw was like ridiculous throw and ridiculous catch. That’s what makes this league so special, because from game to game you just never know especially when you’ve got two good teams like you had in that game. …Stuff like that happens.”
Henderson called Rodgers “that dadgum No. 12,” but the Falcons limited the Packers quarterback to 287 yards, intercepted him once and sacked him twice in holding Green Bay to 21 points. Now, the Falcons have to stop Tom Brady to win the franchise’s first Super Bowl.
“Yes, this is an easy task,” Henderson said, laughing. “Yeah, only Tom Brady.”