After a historic season, the Atlanta Falcons actions in handing Tom Brady his fifth Vince Lombardi Trophy turned out to be criminal.
Sports is the best type of theater — live performers at the peak of their powers competing for a chance to have their names etched in the history books. It doesn’t get any better as fans sit on the edge of their seats.
Heart racing, palms sweaty with the outcome seemingly in doubt — it’s the outcome to any delicious sports recipe.
But after the Falcons corralled a 28-3 in the third quarter, that outcome appeared to no longer be a question. Atlanta was about to win its first championship in franchise history while handing Tom Brady his third Super Bowl loss. ESPN Stats and Info had the dirty birds’ win probability at as high as 99 percent at one point.
A look at the dramatic turn in win probability in the Patriots' Super Bowl win pic.twitter.com/1SYGxRBuEK
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 6, 2017
Instead, they handed Brady his fifth championship. The lunacy of Dan Quinn, Kyle Shanahan and Matt Ryan reared its ugly head.
As for Brady, he was phenomenal and cemented his legacy as the greatest quarterback of all-time. By capturing his fifth championship, he successfully extinguished all the question marks associated with Deflategate.
Since it was discovered that footballs were tinkered with by the deflator himself, Brady has deflated teams in the Super Bowl, going 34-42 for 370 yards with three touchdowns, zero interceptions and a raw QBR of 93.7 in the 4th quarter/OT in wins over the Seahawks and Falcons.
It was a chance for Brady to do something incredible. He capitalized on that moment, spearheading the largest comeback in SB history. Job well done.
Now let’s get to the Falcons, who astonishingly choked away a championship. This was worse than the Yankees blowing a 3-0 in the 2004 ALCS. It also trumped the Indians blowing a 3-1 lead in the World Series to a team that hadn’t won in 108 years.
The Falcons also managed to outdo the 73-win Warriors, who became the first team in NBA history to blow a 3-1 lead in the Finals ending a 52-year professional sports drought for the city of Cleveland.
This epic collapse by the Falcons was a hybrid of coaching malpractice and offensive ineptitude. Robin Lundberg of ESPN Radio delivered the tweet of the night.
The 49ers should fire Kyle Shanahan right now.
— Robin Lundberg (@robinlundberg) February 6, 2017
On Saturday night, Shanahan received the assistant coach of the year award. On Sunday night, it should’ve been taken from him for his asinine play-calling. And it all began with this tide-turning strip sack that set the Pats up for a touchdown.
.@zeus30hightower started the comeback with a strip sack!
How would you name it?
— NFL (@NFL) February 6, 2017
It was 3rd-and-1 from the Atlanta 36 with just under nine minutes remaining in the game. The Pats had no answer for a Falcons rushing attack that finished fifth-best in the NFL during the regular season and with 104 yards and a TD in this game.
Somehow the best decision given all these circumstances outlined was to have Ryan drop back for what appeared to be an attempt at a deep throw. On the two previous plays, Tevin Coleman rushed twice for a total of nine yards. They elected not to give him the ball again. Dont’a Hightower came up with the strip sack that gave his team all the momentum. Uh-oh.
Despite this breach of judgment, the Falcons were still in great position. New England did score a TD and converted the two-point conversion, but Ryan drove his team into field-goal range on the ensuing possession aided by an outstanding highlight catch by Julio Jones.
— SCOTT WARNER (@ScottWarner18) February 6, 2017
This could’ve been the play of the game, the moment we forever remembered and arguably the biggest catch in Falcons history. But in the blink of an eye, it inexplicably went from 1st-and-10 with 4:40 remaining on the Pats’ 22-yard line to 4th-and-33 with 3:38 left on the Pats’ 45. How does that happen?
Well, it’s when the Falcons decide they’re once again allergic to making the smart play. They ran on first down and lost one yard. Then they went with two pass plays, one that netted a holding penalty.
Both Quinn and Shanahan have to understand the situation here. In the postgame press conference, he alluded to his team always being aggressive. He said it’s what helped them achieve success this season. But he failed to explain how it made any sense not to play for a field-goal there. It would’ve caused the Patriots to burn their timeouts and essentially ended the game.
In the last three years, Matt Bryant is 24-of-25 on kicks from 30-35 yards. In a Dome with no weather as a variable, Bryant nails that field goal to give the Falcons a two-score lead. Game over.
But Ryan has to bear some of that criticism. Even if Shanahan calls for a pass play, why wouldn’t he audible out of it to a run play up the gut. Understand the moment and put your team in best position to win by taking the ball out of your own hands and making the right play. Furthermore, allowing a sack on that possession is mind-boggling. He has to get rid of the ball. Inexcusable.
This is one of those losses that’s impossible to get over. The Falcons managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Dan Quinn has now lost to the Pats in the SB twice in the last three years because his team didn’t run the ball in critical situations. Kyle Shanahan went from being hailed as an exceptional offensive mine to excoriated for getting too cute in the clutch.
And Matty Ice, who had a chance to take an astronomical leap into the elite conversation, melted in the biggest moment of his life.
Villanova’s buzzer beater, Kyrie Irving’s shot, the Cubs ending the curse, Deshaun Watson’s TD pass and now Brady making history — what a fun ride this has been for us spoiled sports fan.
But years from now SB 51 will be remembered as the biggest choke job in the history of sports. Congrats Falcons, you played yourself.
Everyone was enamored with the idea of Roger Goodell handing Tom Brady the trophy. But even with the Pats winning, that didn’t happen. It was the Atlanta Falcons who did that for him.