Palmetto State’s Falcons

Palmetto tiesThe Atlanta Falcons’ roster includes eight players with Palmetto State ties:Roddy White (James Island) John Abraham (USC)Dunta Robinson (USC)Cliff Matthews (USC)Travian Robertson (USC) Michael Palmer (Clemson) Chris Hope (Rock Hill) Vance Walker (Fort Mill) Coming SundayFormer James Island High star White strangely quiet, focused on winning.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Pardon Michael Palmer if he can’t stop smiling. The Falcons’ third-year tight end was born in Stone Mountain, grew up in Gwinnett County north of Atlanta and attended Parkview High School in Lilburn.

When the Falcons upset Minnesota to advance to the Super Bowl in 1999, Palmer watched from his parents’ living room.

When Matt Bryant kicked a game-winning field goal last week to get the Falcons into Sunday’s NFC championship game, Palmer watched from a few yards away. The Clemson graduate was blocking against the Seattle Seahawks as the 49-yard kick split the uprights at the Georgia Dome with 13 seconds left in a 30-28 victory.

“I’m definitely blessed, growing up a big Falcons fan and then getting to play in this NFC championship game for the Falcons,” Palmer said.

Sunday’s game against the 49ers is the first NFC championship game in Atlanta.

“You know,” Palmer said, “it’s still sinking in.”

Watch the replay of Bryant’s kick. Palmer is the first congratulating his teammate in the picture, hugging Bryant with his left hand and patting the top of the kicker’s helmet with his right.

“It was an awesome moment, and an exciting feeling,” Palmer said. “It’s really hard to describe, but it’s something I’ll remember the rest of my life. It has to be one of the more defining plays in this franchise’s history. To be out there was an honor, and very humbling.”

Speaking of humbling …

The Falcons’ roster includes four former South Carolina Gamecocks: defensive linemen John Abraham, Travian Robertson and Cliff Matthews; and cornerback Dunta Robinson.

See Palmer smile, again.

USC vs. Clemson

“Yeah, I talk to them,” he said. “Too often, unfortunately. I’m outnumbered. And we talk even more during Clemson-South Carolina week. That’s always fun, except that we haven’t gotten a win the last few years. But those guys are always fun.”

Robertson said Gamecocks- Tigers chatter in the Falcons locker room went on for more than just one week this season.

“The whole year,” he said.

Robertson said he and his fellow Gamecocks like reminding Palmer about South Carolina’s four-game winning streak against Clemson.

“He brought up the historical stuff and the overall series record,” Robertson said. “The only thing I could say to that was asking him how many of those games he played in.”

The Falcons hope Abraham, a four-time Pro Bowl selection, recovers from an ankle injury suffered against Seattle in time to chase 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. He is listed as questionable.

Robinson, a starter at corner, made 96 tackles this season.

Cheraw native Matthews, one of Atlanta’s seventh-round draft picks in 2011, had two tackles last week against the Seahawks.

Robertson, Atlanta’s seventh-round draft pick in 2012, was active for 10 games this season but didn’t play last week.

“It seems like Cliff and I have been together forever,” Robertson said. “We always have fun. It’s been a good thing.”

Tony the teacher

Palmer gets lessons in how to block former Gamecocks, and many others, from Tony Gonzalez. The Falcons’ 36-year-old tight end is perhaps the best in NFL history.

“Michael can be a great tight end in this league,” safety Thomas DeCoud said. “He’s been an understudy to one of the best to ever do it and he’s been able to learn and pick Tony’s brain and learn the intricacies of the position.”

Palmer is appreciative.

“I can’t say enough about Tony,” Palmer said. “I’ve learned a ton from him, and a lot of small things.”

Gonzalez in 16 seasons with the Chiefs and Falcons has appeared in 254 regular season games and made 13 Pro Bowl teams. But he hadn’t won a playoff game until last week.

Gonzalez was crying after the Seattle game.

“That just shows how much this means to him,” Palmer said. “Here I am, three years in the league and I already have a playoff win.”

Before it completely sinks in, Palmer and his Palmetto State friends might be on the way to the Super Bowl.