By The Associated Press

When Alex Mack walked into the interview room at the Atlanta Falcons’ practice facility, his eyes quickly turned to the blue banner hanging behind the podium.

There was the logo for the NFC championship game.

Call it new territory for the perennial Pro Bowl center.

Mack is making the first playoff appearance of his eight-year career, having spent the first seven with the dreadful Cleveland Browns. He’s a big reason the Falcons are hosting the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, with the winner earning a trip to the Super Bowl.

“I’m liking it,” Mack said. “It’s fun. It’s a great opportunity. It’s really exciting.”

During his time in Cleveland, he developed into one of the NFL’s top centers but never played on a winning team. The Browns went 33-79 during his tenure and didn’t come close to making the playoffs.

Signing with the Falcons, Mack provided some much-needed stability on a shaky offensive line, giving quarterback Matt Ryan the sort of protection he had lacked through much of his career.

Also, Mack’s ability to read the defense and call out checks undoubtedly played a major role in Ryan having his best season and the Falcons scoring more points than any team in the NFL.

Mack quickly downplayed the personal significance of finally making the playoffs.

As for that banner, he didn’t look that way again.

“Doing a good job by not facing that way,” he quipped to the media, the banner at his back. “Press conferences are different. I usually don’t do this. But it is different. There’s more of you guys that we usually don’t see every week. And its something you’ve got to deal with.

“Really, you’ve just got to focus in and try to handle every week the same.”

Even though this is definitely new territory.


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