Falcons' Shanahan, Freeman disagree who's to blame for Super Bowl fumble
The fumble allowed the Patriots to make it a one-score game before they completed their comeback
On Sunday, the Falcons choked away a 25-point leadin the second half of Super Bowl LI, losing to the Patriots in overtime. And that means most of Monday -- and the entire offseason, really -- will be spent assessing where it all went wrong for Atlanta. It's time to play the blame game.
There's no question that it should be evenly distributed, because it takes an entire team collapse to blow a 28-3 lead in the second half of a game. Matt Ryan deserves blame for taking a sack that pushed the Falcons out of field goal range. So does Kyle Shanahan for suspect play-calling down the stretch. So does the defense for allowing Tom Brady to lead the Patriots on a 31-point scoring spree.
We might need to add Falcons running back Devonta Freeman to the list. Though Freeman ran the ball remarkably well -- he averaged 6.8 yards per carry! -- he appeared to commit a costly mistake in the fourth quarter.
With roughly eight minutes remaining in regulation, the Falcons still led by 16 points. On third-and-1, they chose to put the ball in Ryan's hands, but Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower (the Patriots' unsung hero) spoiled the play by sacking Ryan and forcing a fumble. The Patriots turned that turnover into eight points.
When watching that play again, you'll notice something odd: Hightower ran right through Freeman. It wasn't that Freeman tried but failed to successfully slow down Hightower -- it looked like Freeman didn't even try to block him, almost like he thought it wasn't his responsibility.
Below, the two briefly collide:
But all Freeman does is bump Hightower before immediately disengaging. A split second later, Freeman is looking back at Hightower:
Based on the way Ryan reacted -- he took his damn time to release the ball -- it definitely appeared as if he was expecting Freeman to pick up Hightower, not that it would've been an easy task for the running back. But he could've offered a bit more resistance to slow down Hightower, which would've allowed Ryan time to throw the ball.
After the game, Freeman said that it wasn't his responsibility to block Hightower.
I asked Devonta Freeman if Dont'a Hightower is his man on the strip-sack: "No." Won't give details. Just keeps saying Hightower made a play.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) February 6, 2017
But Shanahan said the complete opposite.
Kyle Shanahan says yes, that actually was Devonta Freeman's guy. Hasn't gotten to talk to him yet. Matt was expecting him to be picked up.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) February 6, 2017
Like I said: Let the blame game begin. There's plenty to go around.
Shanahan can blame Freeman for not picking up Hightower and Freeman can blame Shanahan for calling a passing play on third-and-1. Maybe they'll call it even.
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