They had it.
I keep repeating that phrase over and over again as I go over the many ways the Atlanta Falcons cost themselves their first Super Bowl Championship in franchise history.
I could qualify what I’m about to write by praising the Patriots, Bill Belichick, and, of course, Tom Brady for never letting up. But to do so would be like saying I expected them to. It’s not what I, nor anyone else, expected from a team, a coach, or a player that have been to seven Super Bowls in 15 years. It’s not in their makeup, and to believe or hope that it is would be foolish.
What I didn’t expect, and what makes this loss that much harder to swallow, was that Atlanta wasn’t ready to take that next step themselves.
With the score 28-3 and less than a quarter and a half of football left to play it sure felt like the Falcons were ready. Don’t listen to what anyone tells you about this Falcons team if it doesn’t begin with “they were faster and more dynamic” than the Patriots. They were, and the tape will show that yesterday, today, and any other day you decide to watch it (my guess is that it won’t be anytime soon if you’re a Falcons fan). One also couldn’t help but think that finishing the game the way the Falcons started defensively would have been a huge accomplishment considering they would have done so without their best defensive player (Desmond Trufant) playing in the secondary. But talent alone doesn’t win Super Bowls. Neither does protecting something you don’t own, yet.
And there’s the problem with players, teams, fans, and cities that haven’t been there before.
The Falcons got caught doing what they weren’t supposed to: looking at the finish line with 20 minutes left instead of sprinting across it. It’s the only way you can explain allowing a 25-point lead to become 19, then 16, then eight, then zero, then overtime, then a long flight home. It’s the only way to explain how a defense that looked so dynamic in the first half becomes timid, lost, and out of answers because they’re playing to protect that finish line instead of continuing to sprint across it. It’s the only way to explain how Matt Ryan, the league’s MVP, and might-have-been Super Bowl MVP, goes from leading an offensive attack that left even the most daunting of defenses contemplating if they really had done their homework on this team to unable to grasp the phrase “field goal range.” It’s the only way to explain how an offensive coordinator (now head coach of the San Francisco 49ers) goes from the smartest guy in the room to everyone wondering if he is capable of doing one job let alone all that comes with being a head coach in the NFL.
There are no excuses, no questionable officiating, no Deflategate, no Spygate, no one, or no thing to blame for this loss except the 53 players and dozens of coaches on that Atlanta Falcons sideline.
This is all on the Falcons. They let a Super Bowl championship get away. Period.
They decided to go conservative when everything in Super Bowl past tells you to play for 60 minutes and take all the points you can. Had Atlanta done this, it would have turned a Julian Edelman circus catch into just another cool highlight and Tom Brady’s (new) Super Bowl record 466 passing yards a mere footnote. But the Atlanta Falcons played nervous and poor situational football for almost 25 consecutive game minutes.
You can’t defend a Super Bowl victory if you don’t win one, first. The Patriots know this, I hope the Falcons know it now, too.