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Tom Brady's effect on Patriots also a formidable challenge for Falcons

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HOUSTON -- New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is driven, motivated, experienced and proven in the biggest games the NFL has to offer.

Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Richard Smith, who has to solve the Brady riddle on Sunday if his team is to pull off the upset in Super Bowl LI, mentioned another element in facing a franchise quarterback like Brady.

Smith pointed to the effect players like Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and the Falcons' own Matt Ryan have on their teammates long before they face any opponent.

"You see it, you feel it, it's real," Smith said. "They command so much respect from their players, those guys perform at a high level because of that. Players like Tom Brady, like Peyton, Rodgers and Matt, other guys just play harder for them.

"I see that in the [Patriots'] offense."

Smith added this week that he has seen Ryan -- who is on track to win his first NFL MVP award on Saturday -- have that kind of impact on the Falcons. Smith also saw it up close as the Denver Broncos' linebackers coach from 2011 to 2014.

Manning signed with Denver in 2012. The Broncos would win four consecutive division titles and earn two Super Bowl trips in Manning's time with the team. Smith was on Denver coach John Fox's staff for three division titles under Manning and the Super Bowl trip to close out the 2013 season.

"I always use Peyton as a reference point, because if you didn't do it right, he was all over your ass," Smith said. "That standard was just there every day in everything, and it wasn't coming from the coaches, it was coming right from the locker room. Guys elevated their games, they did it for him."

Smith said the Falcons simply call it "CT," as in "competitiveness and toughness," and added the guys who really have it, "those quarterbacks, those leaders, always keep the standard as high as it can be, and the people around them just don't want to let them down."