February 8, 2017 by dannybishopcreative
They only lost one Super Bowl, but they were beaten by three different opponents.
- The Patriots
- The Clock
- “The Patriots”
That might seem like only two opponents, but let me break it down…
1. The Patriots
The most obvious opponent to beat the Falcons was the team on the other side of the ball. Tom Brady, James White and Julian Edelman all had games that turned an insurmountable deficit into an overtime victory. There’s reams and reams of words that have been written about how the Patriots were simply too good over the duration of the game, so let’s leave this opponent and talk about..
2. The Clock
Tevin Coleman received a 6 yard pass from Falcon QB Matt Ryan with 8 minutes 31 to go in the third quarter. After the PAT the Falcons led by 25 points. There’s no reason that the Falcons should be able to lose the game from that point. One statistical model says that if the game was played 1,000 times from that mark the Falcons would lose only 3 times. Why? Because a team in that position has to understand that their opponent is no longer the team on the other side. Their real opponent is the clock. It’s the fact that they need to make the clock run down while they still hold the lead. Y
Your real opponent is still the opposition if you’re 3 points up early in the second half, but 25 points up late in the third term the Patriots were no longer the Falcon’s main adversary. However, the team as a whole never showed they understood that, from the coaches through to Matt Ryan. Ryan regularly snapped the ball with 10 seconds remaining on the play clock, while newly minted ’49ers coach Kyle Shanahan repeated called passing plays rather than eating up the clock by running the ball.
The desire to throw rather than run was the catalyst for the Patriots comeback when the Falcons called 3 passing plays in 4 attempts after Stephen Gostkowski’s failed onside kick (with added penalty yards). Starting on the NE 41 yard mark the Falcons could have knelt three times (likely forcing the Patriots to use up a good portion of their time-outs) and kicked for a long field goal and won the game. Instead those four plays resulted in +9, -10, a time-out (by the Falcons!), 0 and -9 yards. Now out of field goal range and having burnt just 74 seconds off the clock special teams finally showed that clock management was worth considering, taking a delay of game penalty before kicking the ball back to the Patriots.
The first two Falcons plays brought them to 3rd-and-1 after two runs. But then the bad Falcons popped up and really made the game feel like it was within the Patriots’ reach. Ryan took the snap in shotgun and Donta’ Hightower strip-sacked the ball away, which (of course) the Patriots recovered. The Falcons doubled down on passing from that moment, calling five passes and two runs in the next fruitless series that took only 2:15 and one NE timeout off the clock.
The Falcons looked for deep throws and big yardage gains throughout this. They played like the opponents were still the Patriots and not the clock they needed to tick every second of the 40 they were allowed before each snap. And that leads to the final opponent that the Falcons were beaten by…
3. “The Patriots”
A 4 time Super Bowl Quarterback and Head Coach. A team that rode both talent and luck to the ultimate victory only two years ago. The man that is widely proclaimed as the greatest player ever to pull on an NFL jersey.
That’s what the Falcons were hearing again and again. In the two weeks between their championship win over the Packers and the kickoff of Super Bowl 51 every player, coach and property steward would have been asked questions about how they could beat the Patriots.
It wasn’t just those two weeks. It’s years. Years of the Patriots being the gold-standard. Of being the best. Of having the GOAT under centre. Of having the greatest coach ever.
And Dan Quinn, Kyle Shannanhan and Matt Ryan played a game against the Patriots in their heads. The ones they’d made bigger and badder than the ones they actually played during the first half.
Even when they were 25 points up the coaching staff and their QB never felt like it was enough. The plays they called were the sorts of plays coaches call when they know they still need more points.
The under-over line for the game was 59. Mid way through the third quarter the combined score was just 31 points. Vegas betting thought there would still be a lot more scoring to come, and so – it seems – did the Falcons. They called plays like the team on the other side were capable of scoring 30+ points just a handful of series.
The fact the Patriots did isn’t the point. The fact that if the Falcons had been playing anyone else they would have probably become a clock milking, ball carrying machine. They didn’t because the opponent they had spent weeks and months, if not years, building up in their head made them do things they shouldn’t have.