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Atlanta’s former assistant coaches to square off in the NFC Championship Game

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The Falcons look on as Kyle Shanahan and Matt LaFleur stand one step away from the Super Bowl.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Falcons reached their peak with a run to the Super Bowl in the 2016 season. The primary reason for that run was the team’s performance on the offensive side of the football — they were first in the league in scoring as well as the ninth-most prolific offense in NFL history.

The architect of that offense was offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. His right hand man was quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur. Shanahan got picked off from Atlanta’s staff and was offered the head coaching job with the San Francisco 49ers following that season.

The Falcons never even gave LaFleur an interview for the vacated offensive coordinator position, opting instead to quickly hire Steve Sarkisian. LaFleur moved on to become the offensive coordinator for Sean McVay — another brilliant offensive mind — in Los Angeles in 2017.

Having studied as the number one general for two of the best young coaches in football in back to back years, LaFleur moved on to join the Tennessee Titans as Mike Vrabel’s offensive coordinator in 2018, getting his first opportunity to step into a play-calling role. His ascent up the coaching ladder was completed when the Green Bay Packers hired him as their head coach ahead of the 2019 season.

Shanahan overlooked an ascension of his own in San Francisco, taking the 49ers from lowly cellar dweller to a team which came into the 2019 post season as the number one seed in the NFC. He is the heavy favorite to win this year’s coach of the year award.

The Falcons meanwhile have sputtered and gone into free fall since that run in 2016. They made it back to the Divisional Round of the playoffs in 2017 before suffering back to back 7-9 seasons in 2018 and 2019.

Sarkisian, who was hand picked by Dan Quinn to be Shanahan’s successor, was fired from his role following the 2018 season.

Dirk Koetter was brought in as his replacement, and he trotted out an offense which statistically got worse under his play-calling. As many NFL teams move toward innovative young offensive minds leading their charges, Koetter looks to be the opposite of that — forcing his offense to succeed in spite of him as opposed to because of him. Koetter will be back as Atlanta’s OC in 2020 by the way.

Now to add insult to injury, the Falcons must watch as their two former assistant coaches square off in the NFC Championship Game this upcoming weekend.

Matt LaFleur and Kyle Shanahan have both led their respective teams to 13-3 records this year. They have overseen the two best teams in the NFC in 2019. And they’re both just getting started — each one just turned 40 years old.

Atlanta, meanwhile, will try desperately to recapture the magic of 2016 in an attempt to try and pull itself out of free-fall in 2020 — unfortunately that magic now resides in Wisconsin and the Bay Area, and it’ll be on display this Sunday.