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The Atlanta Falcons made the wrong kind of history in Super Bowl LI

Super Bowl 51 was about as grim as it gets.

NFL: Super Bowl LI-New England Patriots vs Atlanta Falcons Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Two things were simultaneously true last night: The Atlanta Falcons were not supposed to be in the Super Bowl, and they were supposed to win the Super Bowl. Certainly once they raced out to a three score lead over the Patriots, it seemed that the team was on track to finally hoist that first Lombardi Trophy.

Instead, the Falcons made the wrong kind of history. They blew the biggest lead in Super Bowl history—I remarked on the fact that no one had ever come back from more than a 10 point halftime deficit, to my infinite regret—and wound up dropping the first overtime Super Bowl ever. That’s history this team will always be associated with, but it’s not the history any of us wanted.

And while it’s easy to say this is what the Falcons always do, the reality is that this is what the Patriots seemingly always do: Find a way to win, no matter how improbable or infuriating that way seems to be. The Falcons got brilliant games out of Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman (minus one crucial mistake), a hobbled Alex Mack, and Grady Jarrett, who arrived on the national stage with three sacks of Tom Brady in the Super Bowl. It’s not use fretting over the alternate timeline that we don’t live in, but it is true that with one play turning or even the coin flip going to Atlanta, we’re probably talking about the close call and praising the hell out of these players. The Falcons, for all their flaws, will be just as good next year in either timeline.

I saw a lot of fans say they’re done with this team either temporarily or forever, and whether or not that sticks, I understand the sentiment. The Atlanta Falcons have come a long way since the end of the 2014 season, when they were cleaned out by the Carolina Panthers and fired longtime head coach Mike Smith, but we knew all season long that the defense still had holes and the offense had small, potentially significant weaknesses. The injuries piled up, the Falcons defense got tired in the second half after a masterful first half, and the New England Patriots did what they so often do and found the holes in a great Atlanta team. Were the loss not so historically wrenching, I’d say we have plenty to be proud of with this team. We still do.

There is only the lament I heard so many times growing up around Boston Red Sox fans, who greeted each crushing season’s end with a “next year!” that never sounded particularly convincing...until the win finally came. This loss doesn’t change how I feel about this team going forward, and I sincerely think they’ll have a shot to be back on this stage again in a season or two. It’s the lack of guarantees—and the way this loss happened—that will haunt me for a long time.

I’m sure you still need a place to do this, so please feel free to vent here. Just be kind to one another.