The Falcons head to camp trying to get past a loss like no other

The agony of defeat. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

The Atlanta Falcons report for training camp this week bearing a historic tag: They came closer to being Super Bowl champs than any team that didn’t win the Super Bowl. They didn’t trail in regulation that star-crossed night in Houston. Indeed, they led by what is now a famous partial score in NFL annals – 28-3.

They report for camp with a roster adjudged by Pro Football Focus as the NFL’s best. They have the reigning MVP, the world’s best receiver and the league’s leading sack man from 2016. They face a softer schedule than last season, when they were 11-5. Had the Falcons held even one point of that bulbous lead in Houston, we’d be asking if this was a nascent dynasty.

Instead we ask: Is the team that couldn’t win after leading by 25 points with 17 minutes and seven seconds remaining scarred for life?

We can’t know the answer – because there’s not one, not yet. The Falcons haven’t played since falling on the wrong side of history. They’ve had their OTAs and minicamps and whatnot, but neither Lady Gaga nor Tom Brady was present for any of that. Mostly what they’ve done is talk about the Super Bowl, mostly to insist they’re Over It. Then we review summer headlines and ask: Really?

Devonta Freeman took to SiriusXM’s NFL Radio to say, “If I would have stayed in the game, I would have got MVP.” (Had Freeman not been in the game to miss a blitz pickup on Dont’a Hightower, his team wouldn’t have lost.) Peyton Manning made jokes – and did a protracted skit – at the Falcons’ expense during the ESPYs. Even Matt Ryan, who in recorded history had never voiced a discouraging word about anyone or anything, told Pete Prisco of CBS Sports that Kyle Shanahan’s play calls were slow to arrive and seemed to take a dig at Dan Quinn’s we-needed-to-stay-aggressive postgame proclamation.

For 5 ½ months, the Falcons have sworn they won’t be affected by what went wrong in NRG Stadium. Yet here we (and they) are, 5 ½ months later, still talking about what went wrong.

Quinn is very smart and relentlessly upbeat – and aggressive; don’t forget aggressive – and he coined a funny slogan: Embrace the Suck. Thing is, his team has no choice. As much as the Falcons will say, “We’ve moved on,” the subtext of every game this season will be, “Can the team that blew the Super Bowl get over blowing the Super Bowl?” If they make the playoffs (and they should), the question will be, “Can they get back to the game they blew?” If they again reach the Super Bowl (and they might), we’ll all wonder, “Will they not blow it this time?”

For all the feckless moments this franchise has known, nothing compares with the night of Feb. 5, 2017. (It wasn’t just the biggest lost lead in Super Bowl history; it was also the biggest in franchise history.) The fourth-quarter collapse against Dallas in January 1981? Awful, but that was a conference semifinal. The blocked punt against the 0-13 Colts in 1986? Egregious, but who outside Atlanta remembers it? Losing to the Lions at Wembley Stadium after leading 21-nil? Jolly bad, but the game ended just after noon EDT. The wasted 17-0 lead in the NFC title tilt against the 49ers? Utterly wretched, but again – not the Super Bowl.

This was the Super Bowl. This was a day when the Falcons did something an Atlanta team has almost never done – hit the biggest stage and flub nary a line. They were Laurence Olivier at the Old Vic, Freddie Mercury at Live Aid. The first draft of a column begun when it seemed the Falcons would win 42-10 had a line about them “performing in a way we never dreamed possible.” They were that good. Until it went that bad.

Put it this way: Peyton Manning didn’t go on cable TV and crack wise about the Falcons losing the NFC title to San Francisco. This was the game bearing Roman numerals. This was the game with Gaga. It drew 111 million viewers in these United States and was seen worldwide. (When Barcelona overhauled a 4-0 deficit to win a two-game UEFA Champions League tie against Paris Saint-Germain, the Croatian midfielder Ivan Rakitic said: “We saw in the Super Bowl what is possible in sport.”) It was the crowning moment of Brady’s matchless career, and it wouldn’t have happened if Shanahan, now gone to San Fran, had run the dang ball.

In the history of major U.S. professional team sports, no team has ever lost a game so big in such excruciating fashion. Maybe you’re saying, “That’s not true. There has to be something worse.” My polite challenge to you: Go find it. And don’t give me the Braves in the Leyritz game. (That only tied the World Series.) Don’t give me Greg Norman at Augusta. (He’s not a team.) Don’t give me Bill Buckner. (Game 6.)

Apologies for sounding so gloomy-doomy, but the Falcons convene for camp coming off what I maintain is the single most crushing defeat on record. They might have it within them to become uncrushed. They might be good enough to do as Golden State just did – flub one title and seize the next. But for them to do that, they’ll have to get past the loss for which no precedent exists. Good luck, guys.

Reader Comments 0

108 comments
patriotdog
patriotdog

"Instead we ask: Is the team that couldn’t win after leading by 25 points with 17 minutes and seven seconds remaining scarred for life? "

Yes, they will prove to be just that.

9-7, if they are lucky.

Atlanta's sports curse lives on.

ATLMike
ATLMike

Arthur's put in big money and wants a ring---dan better produce something soon or he will get run out of town like the rest.

nyctraffic
nyctraffic

Imagine you have a cousin, Josh, who has spent his whole life either failing miserably or screwing up just when you thought he’d finally turned a corner. At times you’ve invested more energy into him than your own kids—everyone has.


Then imagine Josh moves to Hollywood, lucks into some good management, things start to click, and he somehow wins an Academy Award!  As the whole world watches, rather than just say “thank you,” he goes full-throttle at the podium with an obnoxious drunken rant that ends his career.


Nearly the whole world is marveling about it the next
day—the next week. But for you and your family and friends, it’s just same old Josh.


That was Super Bowl 51 for native Atlantans.


Surreal. Excruciating. Surprisingly unsurprising.

Nick Lyons
Nick Lyons


I guess everyone forgot about the 1992 Wild Card game between the Houston Oilers & the Buffalo Bills. True it wasn't the Super Bowl but it was a playoff game that Houston should have won.


In the Wild Card round of the 1992 NFL Playoffs, the Buffalo Bills recovered from a 32-point deficit to defeat the Houston Oilers in what is still the biggest comeback victory in NFL history


The situation looked hopeless, but the team rallied around backup Frank Reich and went on a 35-3 second half run before winning the game in overtime. The 32 point deficit is the largest an NFL team has ever overcome on the way to a win.


Buffalo Bills’ kicker Steve Christie booted a 32-yard field goal through the uprights in overtime on January 3, 1993 to cap the National Football League’s greatest comeback. However, some beleaguered fans missed the moment as they had already retreated to the comfort of their homes on this cold January day in western New York.

The 1992 AFC Wild Card game looked to be over before it started. The Houston Oilers quickly built a 28-3 halftime lead with the help of four Warren Moon touchdown passes. What was believed to be the final nail in the coffin came just moments into the second half when Houston strong safety Bubba McDowell intercepted a passed and ran 58 yards for another Oiler score. Faced with watching their team trail by 32 points, many fans made their way to the parking lot while the Bills headed for the record book. Buffalo’s backup quarterback Frank Reich, who was filling in for the injured Jim Kelly, led the charge. Interestingly, Reich who played behind Boomer Esiason in college at Maryland, led the Terrapins to the greatest comeback in college football history as a senior. Buffalo began their rally with a one-yard run by Kenneth Davis and when Christie recovered the ensuing onside kick, Reich took over the show. He calmly directed the offense as he connected first with Don Beebe and then hooked up with Andre Reed for three more touchdowns. The Bills’ flurry put them ahead 38-35 with just under 3 minutes to play. With seconds left in regulation, the Oilers’ Al Del Greco tied the score with a 26-yard field goal kick to send the game into overtime.
Early into the extra session, defensive back Nate Odomes intercepted a Moon pass to set the stage for Christie’s dramatic finish.


TOJacket
TOJacket

@Nick Lyons I remember it well...I always figured some guy with a flat nose made a call to Moon at halftime and made an offer he couldn't refuse?

DawgNole
DawgNole

@Nick Lyons: "The Houston Oilers quickly built a 28-3 halftime lead . . . ."

_____________

Did you just have to throw that score out there? AARRGGHH!

Jessie H. Stewart
Jessie H. Stewart

  my friend's mother-in-law makes 94 per hour on the internet and she has been fired from work for eight months.. last month her earnings was 13783 only working on the internet 5 hours a day. check out this page

>>>>>>>>>>>>>www.smart-job5.com

Jumperdude
Jumperdude

Bradley.....for God's sake, SHUT UP! By now, the entire planet knows that the Falcons lost the SB in the worst possible way. Your constantly beating the drum of that loss over and over is just salt in the wound, and beating a dead horse. Atlanta is in pain, the players are in pain, I'm in pain, the whole of the fan base is in pain, yet you are seemingly not. You seem to take great pleasure in reminding us all of yet another failure. My greatest hope is for the players to ignore you and your grinding, and go on to greater things, of which we know they are capable. Right now, I feel you are Atlanta's pain in the backside.

  Rise up, Atlanta

neutral site
neutral site

Loss? What loss???

For 3 quarters, falcons players showboated and danced after, you know, snapping on a chin strap of adjusting the old athletic suppor gear.

Then, in the 4th, they were completely out of gas. Who knew? Who knew the game lasted 4 quarters, and requires all the energy you can vit it? 

Aside from New England. They knew.

Peyton.-
Peyton.-

мy claѕѕмaтe'ѕ aυnт geтѕ 94 per нoυr on тнe ιnтerneт and ѕнe нaѕ вeen υneмployed ғor ғιve мonтнѕ, laѕт мonтн нer ιncoмe waѕ 21967 worĸιng aт нoмe ғor ғoυr нoυrѕ every day.. cнecĸ oυт тнιѕ

          ░A░M░A░Z░I░N░G░ ░J░O░B░S░

¦¦¦¦F¦O¦L¦L¦O¦W¦¦M¦E¦¦¦¦¦http://www.fl-y.com/3pbq 

▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬

DarlaLewis
DarlaLewis

Just win football games it will help with that terrible loss. Starting with a win on the road in Chicago.

DawgNole
DawgNole

@DarlaLewis  "Just win football games . . . ."

____________

Uh, yup--that would be the key.

And that roadie in Chi-town not only will be no small hurdle, but figures to set the tone for the rest of the season.

Every W figures to erase a little more of that horror story in Houston.

DawgNole
DawgNole

@TOJacket

Which makes me a winner the vast majority of the times my team has faced yours, loser.

TOJacket
TOJacket

@DawgNole @TOJacket Exactly stupid...the dawgs claim to fame is there success against a team who has less talented recruits...I know that impresses everybody!!...lol!!

DawgNole
DawgNole

@TOJacket

"Their" success, you imbecile. You should be embarrassed that you have no better mastery of your native language.

Quit whining about recruiting and do a better job, excuse-maker.

TOJacket
TOJacket

@DawgNole @TOJacket We do a better job every year dummy. Thanks for helping me so much with my "native" language....damn what a vag boy.

DawgNole
DawgNole

@TOJacket

You obviously don't do a better job vs UGA on the field (where it matters) "every year," now do you, liar?

And still obsessing over crotches? What would your family say about that?

DawgNole
DawgNole

@TOJacket

Not something I give any thought to--and certainly not something I obsess over in a public forum.

Time for a little self-evaluation there, TOJ.

DawgNole
DawgNole

@TOJacket

The sooner you get started, the better off you're likely to be.

bigmacondawg
bigmacondawg

Waaay better chance The Dawgs win a National Championship in the next 3 years under Coach Smart than The Falcons getting another shot at a Super Bowl. But hopefully they can bounce back. Go DAWGS!

jhsligh
jhsligh

Yep, it sucked.  But now is the time of looking forward, not backwards.  I like this team and marvel at how good they might be this year.  I think they could win 12 or 13 games.  We are not done yet!

meno
meno

It should not go unnoticed that the numbers for that) game tell quite a different (and more complicated) story than the never-stop talking about "28-3 blown lead".  When the other team runs twice as many plays as you and has the ball for twice as long, when you only convert one third down in four quarters, and your 1st ranked offense is held to 12 pts. below your season average the real miracle is that as a team you found a way to have such a big lead in the first place.  Go Birds!

DawgNole
DawgNole

@meno: ". . . the real miracle is that as a team you found a way to have such a big lead in the first place."

_____________

But the bigger miracle remains how they managed to blow such a big lead with so little time left.

OH:IO
OH:IO

Move on Bradly. Turn the freakin' page. 

DawgNole
DawgNole

@TOJacket

This is what you've been reduced to? Does your family know how sickeningly you represent them on here?

TOJacket
TOJacket

@DawgNole @TOJacket My family knows quite well how "sickeningly" I act...haha! My son is an honor grad from Tech....he didn't get those brains from mama!!

DawgNole
DawgNole

@TOJacket

Insulting your wife now? Damn, you'll stoop to anything.

He sure as hell didn't get those brains from you, based on the gibberish you post daily.