If the Atlanta Falcons lost? That would have been a tough question prior to the game. Sometimes the team plays well and still loses. Sometimes they show up flat. Sometimes they just face a bad matchup. Sometimes a player has a bad game. Or sometimes one of your coaches loses all sight of common sense and blows what should be easy win.
This one is pretty easy. National media has been lambasting Kyle Shanahan's end of game play calling. Sure, fans have been killing Shanahan for this, but we rarely see so many journalists, analysts, former players, and writers come to the same conclusion. The last few drives were met with criticisms calling it questionable, baffling, with other national writers asking, "what was Kyle Shanahan thinking?"
This isn't to say the rest of the team played perfectly while Atlanta gave up 25 points. Jake Matthews had a poorly time hold. Devonta Freeman blew an easy blitz pickup. But the Super Bowl was not lost on one play, or even one series. Shanahan and the Falcons had no clue what to do with the lead.
Shanahan called only five runs after going up 25 points. Ryan Schraeder went down and pass protection was becoming a problem. Players were running out of bounds. The defense was gassed and needed some time to catch their breath. The simple fact was the Patriots would not have had the time for a comeback with basic attention paid to running out the clock. I'm all about being aggressive with the lead, but that doesn't mean going pass heavy. You can stay aggressive because you can have a balanced attack that burns up clock, keeps the defense honest, and gives you a chance to score.
And I certainly don't want to get to Shanahan calling five-step drops while in field goal range. Scoring was far from a guarantee, but I can't think of better odds than not fumbling the ball and letting Matt Bryant kick a game-sealing field goal. Bryant, of course, never missed a field goal in that range all season. Instead, the Falcons punted.
Shanahan was a big reason the Falcons made it to the Super Bowl, and the biggest reason the Falcons lost. I have no doubt Shanahan has forgotten more about football than I will ever know, but sometimes football isn't this complicated. I think some coaches overthink what's going on, and we saw that both on Sunday and through half of last season. Great scheme but bad play calling.
Before the Super Bowl, Steve Smith (of all people) was interviewed, and said this was not a game for Shanahan to get too cute. It sounded ridiculous because Shanahan had improved his play calling this season, but in the end, Smith was right. And the Falcons are still ringless after 51 years because of it.
We can't end on a sad note. Who gets game MVP?
Grady Jarrett tied for the most sacks in the Super Bowl, and is one of many young players on the rise in Atlanta. Three sacks on Tom Brady is impressive for anyone, especially a second-year defensive tackle. Ultimately, this team is still trending up. The offensive scheme is staying, but Shanahan (and most of his coaches) will be gone. Even a decent offseason should give Quinn one of the most stacked rosters in the NFL.
It is still, and will continue to be, tough to stomach the loss, but these Falcons will be improved and competitive in 2017.