HOUSTON — After further review and not much sleep, this was still awful. And you can’t spell “awful” — or “Atlanta” — without an “a” and an “l.” That’s a cheap line, I grant you. But this one …
It really was the worst.
I passed Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports in the back of the press box an hour after the game. We arched our eyebrows at one another. He said, as a form of commiseration: “This wasn’t your first rodeo.” And that’s the point.
I’ve lived in Atlanta since 1984. I was there for the Leyritz game, the Brooks Conrad game, the Eugene Robinson game, the Wembley game, the blocked-punt-against-the-winless-Colts game, the Levingston-running-lefty-hook game. I’ve seen a lot of lousy endings. This was the lousiest.
It’s one thing — still not a great thing, I’ll concede — if you watch a team collapse and you feel that, for all the heartbreak, the right team won. The right team did not win Sunday night. The Falcons were the better team, and not just by a little, for 50 minutes. They led for 41 minutes. The Patriots led only after the game’s final play, which came in overtime.
I used the word “choke” in what I wrote in the immediate aftermath. I say again: I hate that word and rarely invoke it. I didn’t use it, say, when Brooks Conrad was making three errors because — let’s face it — nobody ever mistook Brooks Conrad for Bill Mazeroski. But this was different. These Falcons were routing the NFL’s best team of the past 15 years, and for all the greatness of Belichick/Brady, they couldn’t have won without the Falcons aiding and abetting.
Kyle Shanahan, mostly masterful over 18 3/4 games, got greedy. Matt Ryan, author of one of the greatest seasons by any quarterback ever and the owner of a perfect passer rating deep into the third quarter of this Super Bowl, took two sacks he could not take. Dan Quinn talked about “staying aggressive,” which is fine in theory but less fine when a dollop of caution would have made the difference between a championship and infamy. Credit the Pats for coming back. Discredit the Falcons for letting them.
There will, I guess, come a time when we can look back at the first 18 games of this shining season and smile. But, to borrow from the final line of “Gladiator,” not yet. Not nearly yet.
From last night: The Falcons lose the most Atlanta game ever.