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Miami Proves It – The Falcons, Like You and Me, Still Aren’t Over Super Bowl 51

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The Dolphins beating the Falcons unearthed an awful truth we’ve all been running from.

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Atlanta Falcons Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

This week, I learned a very, very valuable lesson – do not make Super Bowl 51 jokes. Ever.

Seriously – don’t do it. Please. I’m begging you. Don’t do it! You’re making a huge mistake!

Wednesday evening, late into the night while my brain was slowly becoming sleep mush, I made a Super Bowl 51 joke on Twitter.

It went poorly.

Though, it has taught me a good lesson about covering this team that I’ve seen hints at here and there amongst its fans – we don’t like talking, thinking or even witnessing human conversation over the Super Bowl. It is a harbinger of doom, a specter of sadness, a pale pall that looms over our collective memories. We get angry when the announcers mention it, we get frustrated when players are asked about it, we bury it deep within our minds, hoping never to stumble upon it ever again.

But, come now, it’s still there. It’s not going anywhere. It certainly hasn’t gone anywhere for Atlanta.

I declared the Super Bowl hangover dead and gone after the Falcons trounced the Packers. I danced on its grave. But like any good slasher in a horror film, that puppy kept leaping back up to hack at me with its pointy knife.

It’s Halloween time, so begin to imagine your favorite horror sequel’s narrative structure. The Lions last-second win was when things really began to feel odd – like that old evil was creeping back in. The Bills loss was the part where 28-3 peeked around the corner, and the audience gasped. Sunday’s Dolphins loss was that son-of-a-gun lunging at you with cutlery (well, in this case, Cutler-y), trying to add you to its list of severed heads.

For us and for the Falcons, there’s no running from it anymore.

We’re going to all have to deal with Super Bowl 51 – for reals this time.

Because goodness knows if we don’t, and fast, next Sunday’s going to do it for us, whether we like it or not.

Look at the state of Falcons football at the moment – Sunday’s first half was a breath of fresh air – the team was moving the ball well on offense without Mohamed Sanu (Marvin Hall touchdown dance alert), the defense held tight a flailing Dolphins offense to a goose egg and all was well and good going into halftime.

Yeah, I’ll say it, like the Super Bowl halftime.

Then, yes, like THE SUPER BOWL, Miami’s offense came out and hung a lengthy drive on the defense that capped in an ugly touchdown. 17-7, whatever, the Falcons will score again. Well, they didn’t. They looked shell-shocked. The Birds did their best to move the ball here and there on offense and stop the bleeding on defense, but they’d ultimately be thwarted by bone-headed mistakes and penalties, lapses in play calling and execution and a renewed spirit from a Miami team that looked dead-in the-dirt after thirty minutes.

LIKE IN SUPER BOWL 51. THE SUPER BOWL. THE ONE WHERE THE FALCONS LOST TO THE PATRIOTS ON LIVE TELEVISION.

If you’re still with me, I promise, this goes somewhere. It’s not just empty provocation, and I know it hurts. So do flu shots.

The great irony in Atlanta right now is we all want to get over Super Bowl 51, but we want to get over it by making it go away. One wonders if the Falcons tried to do just that, and, at the end of the day, if that really worked.

I don’t know how many articles I read on how Dan Quinn was trying to get his team over this hump – he did an exemplary job of getting the team through the offseason – of getting spirits high again, crossing rough waters when they came up, forging ahead to a new day where 28-3 didn’t matter anymore and the 2017 season was the focus.

It’s just different when you put the pads on and go play. You can’t run or hide from it anymore. When it’s back to basics, you’ve got to actually begin to move on, particularly when those memories start coming back with each and every second-half three-and-out and opposing touchdown that cuts away at your lead.

Sunday, it was a disastrous, almost comical coincidence to the Super Bowl – huge Falcons lead, lapses in offensive rhythm and defensive vigor, all in the second half, against an AFC East team. Euripides could have staged a better tragedy.

The Falcons blew it in February, and there’s no changing that. I wrote at the beginning of the season that Atlanta’s year would come down to the little moments – the moments that would be too close for comfort, that would truly show the team had indeed learned from and moved on from the pain of Super Bowl 51. So far this season, it has come down to big little moments – the team is 2-2 in those big little moments.

Though, there’s a bigger moment I think we all probably should have seen coming – the second half – the nightmare chamber where the Falcons suffered their darkest hour.

The team has been, to be blunt, mediocre at best and dreadful at worst in each second half this season.

They are not over Super Bowl 51 yet, and it oozes out of them each time James Brown tosses it back to Gumbel and Green after halftime.

The announcers noted that Quinn told them he felt his guys had a lack of emotion in the Bills loss. Sunday, they overcompensated in that department, particularly on defense. It’s frustrating to really gauge where this team is mentally right now, but wherever it is, it’s not a great spot. At least we know what drives it.

It’s the Super Bowl. I was alluding to the Super Bowl. Super Bowl 51. Remember?

There are other factors at play here you can peg on – the new coordinators have taken their lumps. Steve Sarkisian is not a popular man in Atlanta right now, though his play calls haven’t been nearly as dreadful as the mood is right now, and he’s taking the unfortunate role of “season scapegoat” so far, as so many Falcons offensive coordinators have in years past. He’s been fine. Marquand Manuel isn’t as put-upon, but it’s important to note that it’s his defense that is looking so out of sorts once the second half rolls around. Ricardo Allen was vocal post-game about how it ultimately comes down to execution, and certainly, that’s been an issue after the 30-minute mark. So maybe lay off the coordinators for a bit.

Quinn evades criticism from those of us smart enough to know what a phenomenal job he’s done in his tenure, but it’s fair to question whether his team is in the right mind-frame right now, and how successful the remedies ultimately have been in the long run. And, if there truly is a perfect way to get over a loss like Super Bowl 51.

Oh, darn, I said it again. Silly me. Super Bowl 51. 28-3.

Cory, stop saying it. Let’s put it behind us, let’s ignore it, it’s time to move on from talking about it.

You want a 6-10 2016 Panthers season? Continue to tell yourselves that.

It’s time we all stopped acting like the Falcons are over 28-3. It’s the story of the season, the driving force to keep them going and the lead weight that could ultimately sink them. It’s the grand puzzle that may not have an easy solution. It’s something the team is going to have to learn to live with.

Next Sunday may have the key. It’s not out of the question to think the Falcons have been disinterested in this stretch of the schedule. It’s completely against Quinn’s mantra, but it’s an entirely human response. “Nothing matters until New England, and as long as we win a few here and there, we’re fine.”

The Falcons will see their rematch with New England on Sunday Night Football, and this could be, no, is indeed their mental Super Bowl before the brutal November/December stretch of the schedule kicks in. Beating New England once and for all would give the team a catharsis we can’t fully grasp. It’s the revenge game of all revenge games. Win that, and you could see the team really come alive.

Losing this game could very well tank the 2017 season.

It’d be of no fault to the Falcons – they’d simply just fall victim to the Super Bowl hangover once and for all, like the myriad of other teams who’ve come before. And after *that* Super Bowl? Can’t imagine.

But, it would be against Quinn’s entire effort to make this team special, to make them a Brotherhood, to make them different, if the season was won or lost next Sunday night. It would go against every platitude on every t-shirt, every postgame comment, every inspiring video. It’s a difficult balance to rectify with.

Next Sunday is not the Super Bowl, but it carries the weight of one. And winning that will do wonders. But, as the team will quickly figure out, it won’t make 28-3 go away. The ring finger will still be empty, regardless of whether they get an eye for an eye.

Maybe just getting past that New England game will help. As long as it looms, the team is going to focus on it. Maybe that’s the major refocus the team needs. But, then, after that, you know what game will replace it.

The Falcons have a deeper problem. One that requires them look themselves in the mirror and admit they’re all still pretty blue and bruised about what happened in February, and that no win outside of that grand one in February is going to totally fix that (though, sure, a Pats win, like a bowl of ice cream or a good shower, would help). That their 2017 play has been negatively affected by the Super Bowl, no matter how much they’d like to insist that it hasn’t. That they’re afraid to lose, and it’s causing them to do just that. That they’ve still got plenty of time to do their best to learn to live with 28-3 this season, win a bunch more games and really try to finally punch that tiger in the eye when the time comes next year, if possible.

With Aaron Rodgers potentially out for the year, the NFC changed today. It has become anyone’s to win who is up to the challenge. Is Atlanta?

If you haven’t seen The Babadook, I can’t recommend it enough for this time of year. It’s one of my favorite horror films, and one of the better films of the decade.

Not to spoil it for you, but the film winds up posturizing this very simple question: what can you do with a monster that won’t go away. The Babadook’s catch is once he’s in your house, he doesn’t leave, no matter how hard you try to get rid of him or ignore that he’s not there. The film is about the heroine trying to rectify that this thing has come into her home, and how she has to try to stand up to it, and, ultimately, try to live with it not going away.

28-3 is the Falcons, and really, our Babadook. We can’t get rid of this thing or ignore that it’s there. We’re just going to have to learn to try and live with this thing, and hopefully, learn to move past the fact that it’s there while not forgetting that it’s there, and even it out with something incredible.

Minnesota’s a great place for Falcons in the winter, so I’ve heard, and the rooms aren’t booked yet. If Atlanta can play their cards right and right the ship mentally, they’ve got the personnel and coaching staff to claim that spot yet. No A-a-ron makes that a lot easier, admittedly.

The team has its Babadook to conquer, and if they can, there’s no reason to think this team can go on to do some great stuff in 2017. If they can’t figure it out, though, there’s no reason to think this season ends with anything but disappointment. Here’s hoping for the former.

As for us, though, let’s, as a fan collective, stop solely blaming Sark here, and Ryan there, and the pass rush here, and Keith Armstrong there, for our woes. Not that all those parties are above criticism – they’d be the first to tell you that they’re not. But, let’s, finally, for once and for all, me included, acknowledge what we’ve tried to ignore since that first Bears game:

The Falcons have a Super Bowl hangover, and that’s the major reason why they haven’t lived up to expectations.

Whew, feels good, doesn’t it?

Eleven more games, eleven straight weeks. Patriots next Sunday.

28-3 won’t go away. But, we all can learn to live with it.

If we can’t? Here’s another recent horror film for you: Happy Death Day.

In that, the main girl keeps repeatedly living through the awful day she dies over and over again until she figures out who’s killing her and stops it from happening.

Welcome to the Falcons’ version of Happy Death Day.

We know the cause, though. Time to fix it.

Cory is an editor of fellow Falcons site Rise Up Reader, where you can find more Falcons coverage. He is a cohost of the Falcoholic game-recap podcast that airs weekly.