How The Falcons Threw Away The Super Bowl
February 16, 2017
The Golden State Warriors blew a 3-1 series lead in the NBA Finals to the Cleveland Cavaliers because of a superhuman effort by one of the greatest players of all time, Lebron James.
The Cleveland Indians blew a 3-1 series lead to the Chicago Cubs because of a rain-delay 10th inning locker room speech by former Atlanta Brave turned Cub Jason Heyward in game seven of the World Series, ending a 107-year curse.
Here in Atlanta, we had our own crisis to remember for years to come.
The Atlanta Falcons blew a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl because of more than questionable play calling and a New England team willing to take advantage.
The point is, it’s never over till it’s over. The Atlanta Falcons are not going to forget that rule for a long, long time.
Before I detail how the Falcons ruined their own championship dreams, we need to recognize that the New England Patriots have won five Super Bowls in 16 years and give them credit for actually coming back from a 25 point deficit
Now that that is over with, let us dive into Super Bowl 51.
The Atlanta Falcons were having a dream season compared to previous years. After four straight seasons of finishing at or below .500 in wins, Atlanta was surging with an 11-5 season that saw them lead the league in scoring (33.8 ppg) and were top five in every major offensive category.
Atlanta’s playoff fortunes kept the same tone, blowing out Seattle and Green Bay by a combined score of 80-41 on their way to the Super Bowl.
Early in Super Bowl 51, Atlanta continued to showcase its dominance on the field.
After playing an almost perfect first half that saw Atlanta jump out to a 21-3 lead, longtime fans of the Falcons could not believe how well the dirty birds were playing.
“The Falcons’ offense did a great job running the ball in that first half and our defense kept the surprises coming,” said senior and longtime Falcons fan Omar Khan.
Early in the third quarter the Atlanta Falcons were dialed in and looking to go for the jugular. Running back Tevin Coleman took a six-yard pass into the end zone for a 28-3 lead.
To put this into perspective, the largest comeback in Super Bowl history was 10 points.
Atlanta passed this number by 150%. Atlanta had reason to begin planning parades.
The Patriots quickly answered, but our good omens continued as Stephen Gostkowski, New England’s kicker, missed the extra point to make it 28-9.
Weak playcalling on the next Falcons drive wasted almost no time and gave Tom Brady a chance to gain some momentum Atlanta would never get back.
After driving early in the fourth, Atlanta stopped New England short of a touchdown off of a superhuman effort from Grady Jarrett with two sacks in three plays. A Patriots field goal made it 28-12 early in the 4th.
This is where the torture truly began.
The Falcons had the ball with around eight minutes left and were poised to end the game on this drive. We proceeded to run the ball twice and were faced with a 3rd and 1.
Getting one yard is an easy task all things considered and Falcons fans expected one run up the middle and our demons from years of lost championships would go inhabit another city.
But it can never truly be that easy, can it?
Atlanta proceeded to call a pass play leaving a Patriots player to run free and nail Matt Ryan in the side of his chest, causing him to fumble and the Patriots to recover in Falcons territory.
The play call is questionable yes, but the execution doomed Atlanta. A pass that close to your own goal line is risky, but the Falcons had gotten to the Super Bowl on their aggressiveness and were not going to stop now.
Head Varsity Football Coach Craig Bennett agrees.
“If you look at that play it was a great call, the wide receiver was open, but the running back did not make his block in pass protection,” said Bennett.
Now as Atlanta fans, we graduated from the Harvard of sports nightmares. After the Patriots recovered that fumble, the possibilities started to fill our brains of how we were going to lose this game.
Nightmare Scenario A, as I’ll call it, was unfolding right in front of us. Already with momentum, the Patriots now had a chance to make it a one-score game with almost zero time taken off the clock and our defense looking gassed.
As expected, two minutes and five plays later the Patriots scored, 28-20 Falcons lead with six minutes left.
Atlanta was now in triage mode and needed to survive to capture its first major sports championship since the Braves’ 1995 World Series win against the Cleveland Indians.
The Falcons proceeded to come out firing, quickly moving downfield, but the drive was highlighted by a superhuman catch by Julio Jones.
We were now easily in field goal range with around three minutes and thirty seconds left in the game. The plan was simple: run the ball three times, waste the clock and kick a field goal to create an insurmountable 31-20 lead.
Nightmare scenario B, step right up.
The Falcons called a run on first, were sacked on second down and were called for holding on third.
Although I will always continue to question the validity of that play call that caused the sack, Bennett took a coach’s perspective.
“The New England D-Line had such a tremendous push on that play that he didn’t have a chance to move up in the pocket or to the side,” he said. “It is much easier to look at it as a fan and say just run the ball and kick a field goal, but so many decisions are made in a split second that I can’t say it was a bad call.”
All that aside, what was supposed to be a 42-yard field goal to win a Super Bowl now turned into a punt to give Tom Brady and the Patriots a chance to tie the game with just over three minutes left.
So, of course, the Patriots rip open an exhausted Falcons defense, score with ease and suddenly we have a tie game. 28-28.
The fact that the Patriots converted two 2-point conversions is still haunting. The league success rate for 2-point conversions all year had been 50 percent, and New England went 2-2 in 8 minutes.
Now, many will be quick to blame the Atlanta defense for hemorrhaging points, but they had to play an incredible 99 plays.
To put this into perspective, the Falcons had not played more than 81 snaps in any other game all season. That snap count also set a Super Bowl record for most played by any defense in its 49-year history.
An ill-fated attempt at a game-winning drive with zero timeouts by Atlanta fell short, and the first overtime in Super Bowl history was upon us.
As if our luck could not get any worse, we lost the coin toss, giving New England the ball and allowing them to quickly take advantage of our drained defense.
Touchdown Patriots. Game over.
“Absolute heartbreak,” said junior Zach Chaloux.
What was supposed to be a coronation for one of the greatest offenses in history turned into the worst choke-job in recent sports memory.
We finally have a name for the 2016 Falcons: the team that blew it.