The Atlanta Falcons had a magical season by any standard, especially given our expectations. Unfortunately, it ended in the most catastrophic, terrible fashion imaginable, with the team climbing out to a huge lead that it subsequently squandered en route to a heartbreaking loss in overtime.
Let’s break this thing down quarter-by-quarter.
The Falcons deferred to start the game, putting the ball in the hands of the New England Patriots offense. The Falcons’ defense did an amazing job immediately, forcing a three and out on a missed pass, nine yard Julian Edelman catch, and a stuffed run.
That gave the Falcons the ball near the goal line—after a Paul Worrilow holding penalty on the return—and almost immediately got to midfield. Devonta Freeman got some nice blocking up front and juked his way by multiple Patriots defenders en route to the 45. A short Devonta Freeman gain, a short Patrick DiMarco catch, and a big sack of Matt Ryan ended a promising start, and Matt Bosher nailed a punt inside the ten yard line that set the Patriots back significantly to start things off on their second drive.
A handoff to Julian Edelman failed, but the Patriots got a pair of first downs on back-to-back passes. They then got the Pats to third and short, but weren’t able to get a stop before getting a Courtney Upshaw sack, incompletion, and Grady Jarrett sack to force another Patriots punt.
On their next drive, the Falcons got rolling early, with a nine yard run by Tevin Coleman and first down grab by Patrick DiMarco to start things off. The next set of downs saw a short Devonta Freeman run, a slightly longer Tevin Coleman run, and a Ryan slide.
The Patriots got moving on their next drive, but the quarter ended at a 0-0 tie.
The Falcons couldn’t stop the Patriots initially, with New England connecting on a 27 yard pass to Julian Edelman, but things changed in a hurry. The Falcons stripped the ball away from LaGarette Blount and came away with the fumble to get the ball back.
The Falcons got to cookin’ with back-to-back big catches by Julio Jones, including one over the middle with coverage nearby. Then Devonta Freeman made a series of brilliant cuts to get the Falcons inside the ten yard line, and one more cut and a flying leap got him into the end zone. It was then 7-0 Falcons.
The Patriots had another three and out. That was kind of great.
On their next drive, the Falcons rang up another touchdown after a productive drive, with Austin Hooper bringing in a 19 yard catch. That made it 14-0, good guys.
The Patriots didn’t do a hell of a lot on the next drive, but the Falcons committed two holding penalties (one from Alford, one from Poole) to keep things moving for New England. Then Brian Poole committed another one, and it looked certain that the Patriots would score. Of course, when Robert Alford has the chance to make an interception, he rarely misses out on that opportunity, and he came up with a long pick six to put the Falcons up 21-0 with the second quarter winding down.
The Patriots had a stop-and-go drive, but the important news was that the Falcons held them to three points. It was 21-3 at halftime.
The Falcons got the ball first, and were unable to get a first down against a motivated Patriots defense, punting it away.
The Patriots got excellent field position thanks to a long Julian Edelman return that could have been longer had he not stepped out of bounds, which the Falcons got the refs to concede on review.
The Patriots got nailed with a penalty and a couple of big dropped passes on the next drive, leading to (surprise) another punt.
With the ball back in Atlanta’s hands, they got busy living. A productive drive highlighted by two huge Taylor Gabriel grabs over the middle ended with a short Tevin Coleman touchdown catch, and the Falcons were up 28-3.
The Patriots did roar back on the next drive, finally, running down the field and scoring on a quick touchdown pass to James White. It was now a game, but somehow Gotskowski missed the extra point, and the Falcons were up 28-9.
The Patriots followed up with an onside kick, but the Pats screwed it up and Atlanta wound up with the ball. The following drive was extremely unproductive, with the Falcons forced to punt after a near-sack and third down sack of Matt Ryan. Because of a delay of game, though, we didn’t actually get the punt in this quarter.
The Falcons defense started to look gassed in the fourth quarter, with the Patriots getting all the way into the red zone before big Grady Jarrett came up with his second sack of the game. Then he came up with his third sack on third down, incredibly, and the Patriots had to settle for the short field goal. That made it 28-12, Atlanta.
The next drive was a disaster. Tevin Coleman got hurt and then Ryan was hit hard, forcing a fumble that the Patriots swiftly recovered.
New England had a short field and took advantage of it, rolling down inside the ten yard line despite a nice Dwight Freeney sack to start the drive off. They ended up both scoring a touchdown and getting the two point conversion, bringing the Patriots unnervingly close at a score of 28-20.
The Falcons’ subsequent drive mixed tragedy and triumph. Ryan Schraeder was hurt on the drive, Julio Jones made one of the best catches you’ll ever see, and Ryan took an enormous sack to put the Falcons at the edge of field goal range before a holding call on Jake Matthews forced a punt. The Patriots would begin their next drive down eight from inside their own ten yard line.
Unfortunately, with this game rapidly spiraling, the Patriots were able to move down the field. They would score with less than a minute left on a James White touchdown plunge, bringing the game to a score of 28-26. At this point, I had never been so shaky and nervous, and the Patriots wound up getting the two point conversion and tying up the Super Bowl. The Falcons had officially allowed the largest comeback in NFL history at this point, but there was still 57 seconds left.
The Falcons couldn’t score. Overtime came.
The Patriots got the ball to start, and they swiftly picked up a first down on a Danny Amendola sideline grab. The Falcons defense was just too tired and too anemic at this point to do anything the rest of the way, the Patriots got first and goal on the one thanks to a De’Vondre Campbell pass interference, and the New England Patriots scored to win. 34-28.