November 27, 2022

Superbowl LI and the collapse of the Atlanta Falcons

This archived article was written by: Tai Justice

Matt Ryan connected with Tevin Coleman for a six-yard touchdown to extend the Falcons’ lead to 25 points with 8:31 to go in the third quarter of Super Bowl 51. It felt like a dagger. I think someone I was watching the game with said after that play, “ballgame.” It felt like it was over and the Falcons were well on their way to winning their first Super Bowl in franchise history and the first sports title for the city of Atlanta since 1995. Then, just as Atlanta’s Super Bowl dreams started to merge with reality, everything changed.
The Patriots drove down the field and scored the next drive, but still, I’m thinking this game is a wrap. Then the Falcons got a costly holding penalty on their next drive that forced them to punt. The Patriots end up with just a field goal though. The Falcons still led by 16 as the fourth quarter began. On the Falcons’ ensuing drive, Donte Hightower stripped Ryan before he could throw on a third-and-one. Five plays after the fumble, Brady found wide receiver Danny Amendola for a six-yard touchdown. Even with all this, there was five or so minutes left and the Falcons had the lead. They were still in complete control. A few first downs and the trophy was theirs.
Then what should’ve went down as the play of the game and one of the greatest catches ever, happens along the sidelines. Julio Jones performing an act of sorcery. The game was over. The Falcons had one. All they needed to do was kick a field goal and win the Super Bowl. They inexplicably decide to throw the ball-on-back to back plays. The first play resorting in a sack and the next one in another holding penalty that knocked them out of field-goal range. Just totally unacceptable play calling. Also, just an awful job by Matt Ryan. As great as he’s been all season, you CANNOT take a sack there. It’s the last thing you should do. Throw the ball out of the stadium before you take a sack in that situation. Taking that sack and the play calls in that situation will be second guessed forever. Totally inexplicable and it cost them the championship. Julio’s catch, which felt like a lock to become the next great image in championship lore, would go down as a mere footnote.
Then the Julian Edelman catch happened. Just watching it live, you thought that there’s no way he caught that. Then you saw the replay and you were like, “oh my, he actually caught that.” I don’t know if it was karma for the David Tyree catch back in the 2007 Super Bowl or what it was, but after that happened, you felt like it was almost fate for the Patriots to complete this historic comeback. For Brady to be the hero yet again. There didn’t feel like there was anything in the world that was going to stop Brady from going down the field and tying the game up. And there wasn’t and that’s what he did. Just like that, it was tied 28-28.
Then the biggest coin toss in the history of sports happened. It just felt like, to me anyway, that whoever one that coin toss was going to go down the field, score a touchdown and win the Super Bowl. And of course, it went the Patriots’ way, just like everything down the stretch did. It had to, because if one thing went differently than the Julio catch is what everyone in the sports world is talking about. We’re discussing if the Brady and Bellichick era is over. It’s crazy how quickly narratives can change. Instead, Brady got the ball, went right down the field and won the Super Bowl for the fifth time and cemented his legacy as the greatest quarterback of all time.
I feel like I can somewhat relate to how the Falcons fans are feeling. The Packers, back in the 2015 NFC Championship Game, blew a 12-point lead, when they had the ball with four minutes left. As a Jazz fan, I know what it’s like to be so close only to have the greatest of all time steal what should be your moment. My heart goes out to the Falcons fans. And no, you never get over it.

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