Last hur­rah?

Freeney has a chance to go out on top with Fal­cons

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS - BY PAUL NEW­BERRY

Dwight Freeney is com­ing up on that time of year when he has to an­swer some hard ques­tions. How does his body feel? Can he still be ef­fec­tive at what he does?

Is the mo­ti­va­tion to suc­ceed as strong as ever?

Once he com­pletes that lit­tle self-eval­u­a­tion, he can de­cide whether it’s time to call it a ca­reer. If this is where it ends, what a way to go out.

Less than three weeks away from his 37th birth­day, Freeney is back in the Su­per Bowl for the third time, es­sen­tially fill­ing the role of player-coach for the At­lanta Fal­cons.

He’s one vic­tory away from be­ing able to ful­fil the dream of ev­ery great ath­lete: re­tir­ing on top.

“I can ap­pre­ci­ate the mo­ment a lot more,” Freeney said. “I’m at a dif­fer­ent place in my ca­reer than I was be­fore, and that’s OK. You play long enough, you’re gonna have all the ranges of what hap­pened in your ca­reer: you didn’t know much, you’re on top of your game, and now you’re like men­tor guy.”

The de­fen­sive end hasn’t de­cided if this will be his fi­nal game. He’s al­ready on bor­rowed time.

“One of my goals com­ing in was, ‘Hey, get 10 years in,”’ Freeney said, smil­ing about a mile­stone he sur­passed five sea­sons ago. “Af­ter my 10th year, ev­ery year I said, ‘OK, that’s prob­a­bly it for me.’ And I keep com­ing back, for what­ever rea­son.”

The Fal­cons are sure glad he did.

While Freeney no longer puts up the dou­ble-digit sack to­tals that were the hall­mark of his 11-year ten­ure with the In­di­anapo­lis Colts, he has played an in­valu­able role tu­tor­ing an ex­tremely young Fal­cons de­fence that started four rook­ies and four sec­ond-year play­ers in the NFC cham­pi­onship game.

His im­pact was most ap­par­ent on Vic Beasley Jr., who re­bounded from a dis­ap­point­ing rookie year to lead the NFL with 15 1-2 sacks. Freeney not only taught the young­ster some of the tricks of the pass-rush­ing trade, but how to be a pro­fes­sional ath­lete.

“I can’t even put that into words,” Beasley said. “What Dwight does, he just pre­pares. You just get to see it for your­self. He pre­pares so well week in and week out. I just try to take ev­ery­thing I can from him.”

A sec­ond Su­per Bowl ti­tle might be enough to en­sure Freeney takes his place in the Hall of Fame some­day. The Patriots be­lieve he’s al­ready earned his spot.

“He’s one of the best pass rush­ers I have ever played against,” New Eng­land quar­ter­back Tom Brady said. “He’s one of the best de­fen­sive play­ers I’ve ever played against.”

AP PHOTO

At­lanta Fal­cons linebacker Dwight Freeney runs in the end zone dur­ing the NFL team’s prac­tice at Grayson High School in Au­gust 2016 in Lo­ganville, Ga.

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