Moments of Heartbreak: Atlanta Falcons – Super Bowl LI

The Atlanta Falcons have never won a Super Bowl. They had been once before, but that was back in 1999 in Super Bowl XXXIII. They ended up losing that game 34-19 to the defending champion Denver Broncos. 18 years later, the Falcons got their shot at redemption. In 2016, the Falcons were one of the most offensively explosive teams the league has ever seen. The Falcons scored 540 points over the course of the 2016, averaging 33.8 points. That point total placed them as one of the top 10 teams in scoring since 1990.

However, this Falcons team would be heavily overshadowed by the headline featuring Tom Brady and his vengeance against the NFL and especially against Roger Goodell. I’m not going to get into the whole deflate gate thing. That dead horse has been beaten so much, it’s no longer recognizable. Nevertheless, it played into this story line because Tom Brady was forced to serve his 4 game suspension at the beginning of this season for (allegedly) deflating footballs prior to games 2 years ago.

The Falcons finished the season with an 11-5 record and Matt Ryan was named as an AP All Pro for the first time in his career and he was also named the NFL MVP that year. Matt Ryan threw for 4944 yards, which was good enough for 13th all time in passing yards in a season. He also had 38 touchdowns through the air, placing him as 19th all time in passing touchdowns in a season. This Falcons team was flying and they closed out the season on 4 game winning streak, giving them the #2 seed and a 1st round bye in the NFC.

In the divisional round, the Falcons took on the Seattle Seahawks who had just dispatched the Detroit Lions in the wild card round. This game would be a rematch of a game earlier in the year, where the Falcons fell on the road. This game was surrounded by controversy because of a possible (I say possible because I’m a Seahawks fan) pass interference on Richard Sherman towards the end of the game.

I was actually at this game with my Dad. My Dad was born and raised in Georgia but has lived in here in Washington for the last 20 some years. We went to that game, him in his Matt Ryan jersey and me in my Marshawn Lynch Jersey (should have worn my Sherman jersey).

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Anyways, I’m getting off track here. The Falcons took down the Seahawks game relatively easily. When Matt Ryan was able to charge down the field on a 99 yard drive to score, I knew that game was over. Ryan shredded the Seahawks defense to the tune of 335 yards and 3 touchdowns as the Falcons took down the Seahawks 36-20

The Falcons magical season continued on to the NFC Championship against the streaking Packers. How does Rodgers do this shit? Honestly. It drives me crazy every single season. Last season it was “R E L A X.” This season was “run the table.” The Packers suck, and then they heat up, and Rodgers is all of a sudden unstoppable. Luckily, for me and hopefully many others, Ryan and the Falcons were able to take down the Packers and end their streak. Which also lost some dudes 28k for trying to “run the table.” Should’ve cashed out. This game was over at half time with the Falcons leading 24-0 heading into the locker room. Ryan piled up another 392 yards and 4 touchdowns to take down the Packers 44-21.

The Falcons were moving on. They had a date with the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI. The Patriots were coming in as as 3 point favorites, probably because of the giant chip on Brady’s shoulders. Coming into this game, I remember not really understanding why the Patriots were favored and why so many people thought that the Pats would win this game. The Falcons were flying, they had their offense perfected and Matt Ryan was showing why he was named the MVP. They were simply on fire and they showed that by jumping to a 21-3 lead at half time. It seemed like the Falcons were going to roll over the Pats on their way to Atlanta’s first Super Bowl. The team and the fans could feel it was their time. Taylor Gabriel, one of the Falcon’s wide receivers, seemed to be a bit hesitant to agree with that notion……”It’s Tom Brady though…”

The Falcons scored again half way through the third to make the score 28-3. “28-3” is something that Falcons fans will dread hearing for years to come. The Falcons would never see the endzone again. “It’s Tom Brady though…” This is the point that Tom Brady would take over the game with the help of James White and the inexperience of the Falcons. The Falcons were unable to move the ball down the field the rest of the game. And in a flashback to Super Bowl XLIX, the Falcons refused to run the ball, instead choosing to continue to try to pass. This would come back to bite them in one particular drive towards the end of the 4th quarter where the Falcons had found themselves on New England’s 22 yard line and in field goal range. Inexplicably, Ryan dropped back for the pass, and was promptly sacked for a 12 yard loss, pushing them back to the 35 yard line. Ryan attempted two more passes after this with one being negated because of offensive holding. They were pushed back to the 45 and out of field goal range, forcing them to punt the ball.

Down just one score now and 3:35 left on the clock, the Pats were able to drive down the field against a gassed Atlanta defense. This included a 23 yard catch by Julian Edelman that will be talked about for years. Somehow, with three guys draped on him, Julian Edelman was able to make a circus catch that was just inches from touching the ground. The momentum was fully with the Patriots at this point. James White ran the ball in from 1 yard out to tie the game up 28-28. This would be the first time in NFL history that a Super Bowl would go to overtime.

I think that everyone in the stadium, including Falcons fans knew that this game was over if the Patriots won the coin toss. And that is exactly what happened. The Patriots won the toss and were able to drive down the field easily and score in under 4 minutes to win Super Bowl LI. Falcons fans would have to wait yet another year for their shot at a Super Bowl victory. Will they ever have another shot? Or will the 28-3 blown lead forever haunt them?

BONUS: Tony Gonzalez’s reaction to the 28-24 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game.

Also, shout out to the Falcons fans over on reddit for the input. Here’s a few of their quotes and times that they were heart broken as fans.

Reddit user mostly_harmless2 – Bobby Petrino quitting. Vick going to prison. Vick breaking his leg. Julio breaking his foot in 2013. 2012 NFC game. London game against the Lions was also a notable low point at the end of the Smitty era.

Reddit user Undercover_Chimp

The fall of Michael Vick.

I always knew Vick was not the ideal quarterback, but he was exciting, he made the Falcons relevant, and if he was in the game it always felt like the Falcons had a chance.

I was a staunch Vick defender when he flipped off the fans, when he got caught with weed at the airport, and even when the dog fighting stuff started coming out (“It’s his family, crew, etc. He couldn’t have been involved.”) He swore to Arthur Blank, and to the fans, that he hadn’t done this.

Then it all went to shit.

Reddit user ArchEast – The 1980 NFC Divisional Round Game vs. Dallas.

Reddit user thedougbatman – Micheal Vick coming back with the Eagles and dominating us (think it was 30 to 3). Seeing Falcons fans cheering for Vick over Ryan was devastating.

Reddit user axechamp75– 2012 NFCCG. I still remember the picture of Tony Gonzalez sitting at his locker after the game wearing his Falcons stuff for the last time. It was depressing. I loved that falcon team. Back in the days of Smitty, and the burner Turner, spooooooon, and willymo. I also loved watching D-block every Wednesday. And that season just felt right then for it to end the way it did was just heartbreaking

Reddit user FreeTrain24 – Mine are a little different. The first blocked punt against NO in the Katrina game.. we literally have been hearing about that shit for 10 years. They made a fucking statue. The blocked punt in the katrina anniversary game. They will probably make another fucking statue and Gleason was there all over again blowing in his little straw to tell us all on twitter to fuck off.

Want to experience more heartbreak? Continue on to the Arizona Cardinals moment of heartbreak here!

All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.

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5 thoughts on “Moments of Heartbreak: Atlanta Falcons – Super Bowl LI

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