The slow-motion train wreck unofficially began midway through the third quarter. Some 45 minutes later, it was all over; the Falcons had blown a 28-3 lead on the NFL’s biggest stage, against the NFL’s most successful franchise this century, and against all odds, found a way to lose the Super Bowl.
In a career full of defining moments for Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, this trumped them all. And the Falcons were left to wonder where it all went wrong and how it went so wrong so quickly. For some players, never watching the game is the quickest way to erase its memory; there’s no reason to relive the horror, which would far outweigh any benefit that might come of sitting through a film session hoping to glean insights into the inexplicable implosion.
This does not apply to Matt Ryan, the Falcons’ franchise quarterback and man mostly responsible for getting the team to the Super Bowl. Not only has he watched the game, he’s done so multiple times.
“No, I watched it,” Ryan told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s D. Orlando Ledbetter. “I watched it a day after. I watched it two days after and I watched it three days after. For me, it was one of those things where you kind of want to be able to deal with it appropriately.
“Maybe, that’s different for everybody. Some people bury it away. Some people (do) whatever. … For me it was ‘all right, let’s watch. Does it feel the same way it felt as we were going through it?’”
And does it -- feel the same as if he was going through it again?
“Numb.” That’s how Ryan described the feeling of sitting through a movie in which he starred but was helpless to do anything about.
In the aftermath of that second-half collapse, one of the big criticisms was that offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan didn’t run the ball late in the game. On one occasion, that led to a Ryan strip sack, and on other occasions, it stopped the clock, saving precious seconds for the Patriots’ improbable comeback.
But Ryan wasn’t willing to second-guess the playcalling.
“You have to believe in what you are doing,” he said. “That’s kind of the way we were all year. That’s not going to change. I love that approach. I love that they have confidence in me and that they have confidence in the guys that we have, and we are going to let it rip. Obviously, it didn’t work out.”
In the hours and days that follow a game like that, it’s not uncommon for the losers, no doubt still in shock, to talk about finding ways to recover from such a devastating experience. But now, with more than two months between the Falcons and the Super Bowl, Ryan sounds a more hopeful tone.
“I think everybody is going to be really hungry to get back there,” he said. “Because, the one thing that I’m proud of, we have a young team, and we were ready to play. We played well. We were right in the mix. We fell a little bit short, but we should have every bit of confidence that we are going to be right back there next year getting a different outcome because we’re going to be more experienced.”
The road back to the Super Bowl begins in four months, when the Falcons face the Dolphins .