The New England Patriots amazing overtime victory was also an amazing disaster for the Atlanta Falcons. For one team, Super Bowl LI was the most incredible evening they ever experienced but for the other? A crushing and devastating loss.
The Falcons were cruising by half time. Two touchdowns and a pick six opened up a lead of 21-0 over the Patriots who were unable to connect and get moving downfield with any real momentum. Right after the half things got even worse for the Patriots as Atlanta got in again and ran the score up to 28-3. Make no mistake about it, at this stage, this game was a blowout.
There can be no doubt what was running through people’s minds at this stage in the game. Midway through the third quarter, it seemed as if the Falcons were going to be home and dry. The players seemed to feel it, the coaches were giddy on the sideline and they had every right to be. Nobody ever saw it going this way. The Falcons were going to win the Super Bowl and they were going to do it in some style over the New England Patriots.
That is what makes the final quarter of Super Bowl LI plus the overtime afterwards truly sensational. Comebacks like this with the time the Patriots had left on the clock just don’t happen. Before this game, no team has ever overturned a lead of more than 10 points in a Super Bowl.
Brady and the team set about the impossible and scored 31 straight points in five drives to overhaul the deficit and win the game in overtime. While what the Patriots achieved was indeed magical to watch. The Falcons could do little more but stand around and watched the Patriots take what seemed to be their championship.
How the Falcons Lost Super Bowl LI
While the Patriots were slow to start and Brady looked a mere mortal, the Falcons came out with incredible intensity. They played such an intense game of football at the start it would always be hard to sustain and when Brady finally started unleashing and flinging the ball around late in the game – the Falcons struggled to keep up.
They ran out of gas, something that head coach Dan Quinn admitted after the game. Quinn felt the Falcons were worn out by the pressure the Patriots applied during the game and when they got hot late in the third quarter Atlanta simply couldn’t keep up. They allowed two consecutive 2pt conversions, allowing a completion on 4th down and then Edelman’s miracle catch. Any of those plays go a different way and we are probably looking at a different storyline today.
.@Patriots TD + 2 point conversion?
— NFL (@NFL) February 6, 2017
— NFL (@NFL) February 6, 2017
What also cost the Falcons was that they stayed aggressive while having a big lead. The running game was working and would have kept the clock moving but in the end, the play that really turned the game against them was when Ryan fumbled the ball on a 3rd & 1 instead of using the running game. Not only did the Pats recover the fumble in great field position but it also crucially stopped the clock.
— NFL (@NFL) February 6, 2017
Dan Quinn also made a critical mistake in challenging the Edelman catch despite the replays clearly showing that the ball never touched the ground. You could argue that the catch was so insane that they had to get the red flag out fast before the Patriots got off a quick snap but this was the second Falcon challenge which left them with no more remaining, it burned a time out and it also stopped the clock allowing the Pats to regroup and prepare without having to rush down the field. From the final quarter right through to overtime, everything that could go wrong did go wrong and the Pats took advantage to make it quite possibly the most phenomenal comeback in sport.
Reporters and fans have called it the biggest bottle job ever on the Falcons part. I don’t like that expression, particularly when it is coming from people who never played the game before. Full credit to New England, what happened on the field was sensational and there was no way the Falcons were going to stop Brady charging for destiny so late in the game.
Can the Falcons come back from this?
There have been dramatic finishes in the Super Bowl, for the Patriots, Super Bowls seem to always come down to the final plays. All we have to do is look back to Super Bowl XLIX two years ago when Butler intercepted a pass from Wilson on the goal line to win it for the Patriots. The defeat was brutal but Seattle had beat Denver comprehensively the year before and nobody can take that ring away from them.
For the teams who have never won a Super Bowl, there is no guarantee they will be back next year. Prime example right now is the Panthers. The Falcons are now 0-2 in Super Bowls and after losses like this it is not uncommon to hear the phrase “we will be back” from players and coaches. What else can they really say after a Super Bowl loss? You come so close and then just fall short.
However in the run up to the Super Bowl, those same players and coaches were talking about how they need to take advantage of their chance because you never know if or when it will come back around again. They have a solid roster, Matt Ryan is the league MVP, the running backs are dangerous, the wide receivers are capable of making stunning plays.
But they have been dealt a massive blow to confidence in such a dramatic game and that feeling will run deep through the team. How do you stay mentally tough after that? Nothing is going to erase this from the memory of those players who have experienced it. You could argue that they will use that to light a fire under themselves for the upcoming season but it is just not that easy and losses like this can stick for a long time.
Other than the Patriots and maybe one or two other teams, a trip to the Super Bowl can be a once in a generation experience. Add into the mix how quickly the NFL changes now in free agency and the NFL draft and it means that anything is possible each year. Perhaps this will play on Atlanta’s minds so much they will be in the Panthers position this time next year.
Only next season will truly tell if they can or will pull back from such a devastating loss.