Former Florida Gators Keanu Neal and Brian Poole will play in Super Bowl LI in Houston in February, after their Atlanta Falcons defeated the Green Bay Packers, 44-21, in the 2017 NFC Championship Game on Sunday.
Neal and Poole led the Falcons’ defense, which largely shut down red-hot Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, with Poole notably lighting up Rodgers twice on blitzes during the game. Poole’s seven tackles tied for the most by any player on the field for the final game played at the Georgia Dome, while Neal’s six tackles tied for second.
Neal and Poole have been integral parts of the Atlanta secondary all season as rookies, starring for a unit that former Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn — who helped recruit both players, members of the Gators’ 2012 recruiting class, to Gainesville — has transformed into a competent complement to an explosive offense led by NFL MVP candidate Matt Ryan.
The Falcons held the Packers to 21 points, tied for Green Bay’s fewest since mid-October with a 21-point performance in a snowstorm against the Houston Texans — one of the NFL’s finest defenses — and held Rodgers to his second-lowest passer rating since he infamously asserted the Packers could “run the table” following a loss to Washington that dropped his team to 4-6.
Neal and Poole are the second pair of former Gators to make the Super Bowl as NFL teammates in as many years, following the appearances by Andre Caldwell and Max Garcia as Denver Broncos teammates in 2016.
If the Pittsburgh Steelers and former Florida offensive linemen Marcus Gilbert and Maurkice Pouncey upset the New England Patriots in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game, at least two Florida Gators will finish the 2016-17 NFL season with Super Bowl rings.