Welcome to “Pivotal moments in Falcons history,” a series examining the most important moments in Atlanta Falcons history. This team has experienced its fair share of ups, downs, and embarrassing moments. Let’s re-live the mediocrity.
You knew this was coming, because let’s be honest, no discussion centering on the mediocrity of what is arguably the NFL’s most mediocre franchise would be complete without mentioning it. And while I hate to make any of you re-live the disaster that was 28-3, we have to go there. So buckle up, Falcoholics, this is going to get rough.
February 5, 2017 is a day none of us will ever forget. After an 11-5 season that saw the Falcons field the best offense in the history of their 50 year old franchise, the Falcons defeated the Seahawks in the Divisional Round before knocking off the Packers in the NFC Championship. We spent 2 weeks trying to figure out how the Falcons could do the impossible and defeat the Bill Belichick-led Patriots. In the interim, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan lost a playbook and feature back Devonta Freeman decided it was an good time to publicly lobby for a raise. Those distractions aside, after 18 years, the Falcons were finally getting a second chance at a Lombardi. It was happening.
I assume you’re intimately familiar with the shenanigans that came next, but let’s recap: The Falcons took a commanding 28-3 lead into the back end of the 3rd quarter. But then Tom Brady got an avocado ice cream flavored IV and the unthinkable happened. Brady led the Patriots 75 yards downfield, capping off the ensuing drive with a touchdown pass to James White. 28-9.
Following a failed onside kick, the Falcons had the ball and were in field goal position. All they had to do was run the ball. Unfortunately Kyle Shanahan decided taking his foot off the gas was a bad idea. From there, Jake Matthews gets flagged for holding on 2nd down. And after an incomplete pass on 3rd down, the Falcons punted. The Falcons managed to limit the Patriots to a field goal. 28-12.
Only 3 plays into the next drive, Freeman misses a block and Ryan gets creamed. Ryan fumbles, his first turnover since early December. After a Danny Amendola touchdown reception and 2 point conversion, the Falcons still had the lead. 28-20. White would score on the ground again and the Patriots would convert another 2 point attempt, evening the score before the end of regulation. 28-28.
The Patriots won the toss in overtime and White would rush for the game winning touchdown, handing the Falcons the most embarrassing defeat in the history of the NFL. Yikes. Just yikes.
The long-term impact of 28-3 is difficult to quantify. To their credit, the Falcons would get back to the playoffs in 2017 and defeat the Rams in the Wild Card Round. But then they’d turn in consecutive 7-9 seasons, making 2020 a do or die year for head coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff.
If there is a 2020 season and the Falcons do get back to being a playoff contender, both men will likely remain with the team in 2021. But truth be told, absent a Super Bowl victory in the near future, 28-3 will continue to cast a long shadow on this team. It robbed Matt Ryan and Julio Jones of a Super Bowl victory, which is tragic enough in a vacuum, but it will be even more tragic once the absence of that ultimate prize is weaponized as a knock on their Hall of Fame resumes.
No need to offer your thoughts, Falcoholics. Just find a corner and cry in it. That’s my plan.