“There’s nothing you can really say,” said quarterback Matt Ryan. “That’s a tough loss. Obviously very disappointed, very close to getting done what we wanted to get done, but it’s hard to find words tonight.”
It will be filed away among the kind of experiences that are as distinctly Atlanta as The World of Coke and Six Flags.
The Falcons would go into halftime leading 21-3, moving at will as they had all postseason and looking for all the world as if they were ready for a rout.
The omens were all in their favor. Twice they had forced the Patriots to turn over the ball, one those turnovers redeemed for an 82-yard Robert Alford touchdown interception.
The newly minted MVP, Ryan, was practically perfect, completing 7 of 8 passes in the half for 115 yards and a touchdown. Tune up the marching bands for the parade down Peachtree.
“Finish,” said tackle Jake Matthews, when asked what the message was in the Falcons locker room, as Lady Gaga sang.
Extending the lead to 28-3 midway in the third, the Falcons looked like finishers.
But then Tom Brady got involved.
About here this turns into one of those classic have/have-not deals. The close-to-dynastic Patriots, their hooded coach and their cleft-chinned quarterback chasing in concert their fifth Super Bowl title. Versus the Falcons, who had spent the past 50 seasons being, well, the Falcons.
Everything reverted to form.
New England drives 75 yards in 13 plays, but misses the extra point. The Falcons led 28-9. No reason to panic, right?
Grady Jarrett might save the day. He twice sacked Brady on the Pats next possession and ultimately made them settle for a field goal. Down 16 now, with less than 10 minutes to play, the Pats would have to score two touchdowns and a pair of two-point conversions to tie the game. Not likely.
When moments later New England linebacker Dont’a Hightower blindsides Ryan, the world was reminded that even MVPs fumble.
Patriots recover, and with a short field, another touchdown was just five plays away. Now, bad ideas are taking hold of everyone who ever has worn any form of Atlanta official merchandise.
When Julio Jones made his obligatory impossible catch for a 27-yard gain and certain field-goal range, all still was under control. But, opting to try to pass on first down rather than run and run clock, Ryan was sacked. A holding call on tackle Jake Matthews wiped out a Mohamed Sanu catch that reclaimed those yards and the Falcons were nudged out of field goal range.
“I felt like we were in good position (after Jones’ catch),” Ryan said. It didn’t end up working out, which was disappointing.”
“Well, we thought we’d have a good look based on the personnel that was in the game for them,” Quinn said. “We trust our guys, so we thought that was the opportunity to let it rip.” The aggression that Quinn espoused all season long backfired.
Given three minutes to drive 91 yards, Brady made it look like child’s play. Especially against a Falcons defense that had been on the field far too long (the Pats would run 93 offensive plays to the Falcons 46 prompting Quinn to admit, “I think for sure we ran out of gas some.”) Once Julian Edelman made an improbable snag of a deflected ball amid three Falcons defenders, the avalanche was pretty much apparent.
Pats score, get the two-point conversion on a quick pass to Danny Amendola, and then the last hope rested with the coin flip.
The Pats called heads. Heads it was.
Was there ever a doubt that New England would drive for the winning touchdown, bathe in victory confetti once more and complete the surgical removal of the Falcons beating heart?
“It hurts. This is definitely a feeling I won’t forget,” Falcons linebacker Deion Jones said afterward.
No one will. These kinds of memories never entirely fade.