The Falcons' Super Bowl collapse is one of the biggest choke jobs in sports history
After blowing a 28-3 lead, there is no other way to describe what we saw in Super Bowl LI
HOUSTON -- I now know what it's like to spend 20 minutes inside a morgue.
This one, actually the Atlanta Falcons locker room, had only a few corpses around by the time I strolled into it, all with the same cause of death: Choking.
There is no other way to describe what we saw in Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium on Sunday night. Some will say it's the coronation of Tom Brady as the greatest quarterback of all-time, and it certainly was that, but the other side is the Falcons, on the biggest stage, gagged away a title with one of the greatest collapses in league history -- and sports history.
If I didn't see it, I wouldn't believe it.
Stick your finger in your throat and feel the gag reflex. Now you know how the entire Falcons team feels.
They blew a 28-3 second-half lead, lost in overtime 34-28 on a James White 2-yard run, and sulked off the field knowing they let one get away.
The worst thing is most of it was self-inflicted.
"Yeah, it sucks," Falcons tackle Jake Matthews said. "This one hurts."
Hurts like sticking a fork into the toaster hurts. Hurts like stubbing your toe on the chair hurts. Hurts like a right to the gut, all the air sucked out of your body.
"It's hard to find words," Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said.
No, there's a word. It rhymes with smoke, stroke and Coke.
The Falcons, despite their dominance for three quarters, rendering Brady into a guy who looked ordinary and not the GOAT, seemed to be cruising to the Super Bowl victory, the first in franchise history.
Then Brady got hot. Then the Falcons tightened their sphincters like a man sitting on the table waiting for the proctologist.
It started with the Falcons leading by 16 and facing a third-and-1 at their own 36 with 8:31 left in the game. Run it there, and if you don't pick it up, you punt. But the Falcons called for a deep pass.
It looked like it might be there, but as Ryan cranked to throw, Dont'a Hightower blasted him and forced a fumble that the Patriots recovered at the Atlanta 25. Five plays later, the Patriots scored and the two-point play made it 28-20.
What the hell were they doing? Run it, get a yard or punt. If the worst thing you do there is punt, you probably win the game.
Then the real bonehead plays came a bit after that. On the next series, the Falcons moved to a first down at the New England 22 on a great catch by Julio Jones for 27 yards. On first down, the Falcons ran Devonta Freeman for a yard.
That set up a second-and-9 from the 21. Run it twice, kick your field goal, and you are world champions.
Instead offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan got greedy. He called a pass play and Trey Flowers dumped Ryan for a 12-yard loss. On the next play, Matthews was called for holding, which wiped a 9-yard completion to Mohamed Sanu. After an incomplete pass, the Falcons punted.
Passing is the way in the NFL, and it certainly was the thing that got Atlanta to this game, but sometimes you have to be smart. Shanahan got too arrogant in the fourth quarter.
Asked if Shanahan was too aggressive, Ryan shrugged that notion aside.
"Too aggressive? No," Ryan said. "I thought Kyle did a good job. I thought we played the way we play. We always play aggressive and play to win."
Three knees and they kick a 40-yard field goal and win the game. A first down and a short field goal and they win the game. The only thing that kills them is a sack and then a holding penalty.
Center Alex Mack said the pressure on the sack came inside the A-gap with a stunt by Flowers. He blamed himself.
He should have blamed Shanahan, who is on his way to be the head coach of the 49ers. I think Shanahan is brilliant. He will be a good head coach. But sometimes these guys in this league outsmart themselves.
"You don't think just run the ball and make your guy kick a 50-yard field goal," Shanahan said. "You try your hardest to give him a great chance to for sure make it, but we ended up getting a sack and it's not really an option after that."
Uh, it would have been a 40-yard field goal if they don't gain an inch. Shouldn't the offensive coordinator know that? Falcons kicker Matt Bryant has made 51 of 63 field goals from 40-49 yards in his Falcons career. He probably wasn't missing.
"I wouldn't second-guess throwing the ball there," Mack said. "We just need to be able to block it."
It was tough for the Falcons offense to get any real continuity. They ran only 46 plays to 93 for the Patriots. New England had 42 plays in the first half alone. Atlanta was 1 for 8 on third down in the game, which isn't close to being good enough for an offense that led the NFL in points and scored 80 points in two playoff games.
So did the Falcons choke?
"I think it was more we took it," Patriots defensive end Chris Long said.
I beg to differ. I think this might be the biggest collapse in sports history and it certainly is the biggest on this stage.
As Ryan slowly walked out of the locker room, the hurt on his face was easy to see as he trudged out to see his family.
On the other side of the locker room door, bodies were strewn about, waiting for the coroner to come.
Choking is a cruel way to die. One minute you're chewing on the best piece of filet mignon, and the next minute you're dead. One minute you're sizing up your finger for a ring, and the next you're in a body bag, one of many strewn about a locker-room morgue.
Say it after me one more time: The Atlanta Falcons flat out choked away a Super Bowl.
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