Super Bowl LI: It’s the hope that kills you

This is not a game review. That will not come from me. This is more a collection of thoughts rattling in my head. I’m basically using it as therapy at this point, so apologies in advance.

I’ve not taken it well, in case you were wondering. Going into the game I had little to no expectations. From nowhere: one of the most dominant, complete performances from the Atlanta Falcons in years. Possibly ever. Three and a bit quarters, we pummeled the greatest dynasty in football into the ground. And then it ended.

Photographic evidence that the bad guys always win Photo Credit: Getty Images

Don’t get me wrong; we had no right winning this game. Tom Brady, on a one-man mission to meet Roger Goodell on the podium purely to spite him for being wronged, was at his journey’s end. Bill Belichick had been given  a two week window to prepare for everything Kyle Shanahan and his furious offense could throw at him. And the Patriots were in the hunt for a fifth ring.

Freeman is shackled

We need to address the elephant in the room: 1st-10 on the Patriots 20. With little over 4 minutes to go, with the score at 28-20, following a superhuman Julio Jones toe tapper, Atlanta were in prime position to deliver a first ever Super Bowl Championship to the city. And yet, instead of calling a trio of run plays, knocking almost 2 minutes off the clock, and kicking a field goal to extend the lead to 11, Kyle elected not to. A combination of holding calls and sacks caused the Falcons to drop out of field goal range, and punt the ball away. New England tied the game on the next drive, and took it to Over time. They then won.

It’s easy to argue now that Shanahan messed up. I mean, he did. However, when you oversee the best offense in the league, it’s not unreasonable to expect they can see it through sticking to the aggressive style of play they’ve become known for. The finger can’t be pointed solely at Shanahan: perhaps Dan Quinn should have reeled it in, and asked his partner in crime to see it out. Perhaps Matt Ryan could have maybe not snapped the ball with 20 seconds left on the clock. The fact remains, however, that 31 points would have put the game beyond any doubt. Not that there should be doubt when you’ve had a 25 point lead, but…

Devonta Freeman managed one score on the night Photo Credit: USA Today Sports/Matthew Emmons

It’s not like we were running the ball particularly poorly, either. Devonta Freeman, who’d been involved in a contract demand SCANDAL earlier that week, moved the ball impressively against one of the stouter run defences in the league. But it’s worked before, and I guess you stick to what you know.

Praise be the young people

Not enough can be said about this young defence, either. For almost three and a half quarters, a defence with four rookies, and three second year players stuffed the run game, slowed the pass game, and battered the GOAT around. Tom Brady didn’t know whether to look left, hand it off, throw the ball, nothing. Grady Jarrett announced himself as a genuinely really defensive tackle by dropping Brady three times, tying the Super Bowl record.

Robert Alford, in the first half, looked every bit the $38 million man he’d become in mid-season. The talented corner managed recovered a LeGarrette Blount fumble, before picking off a wayward Tom Brady pass, returning it for a touchdown. With Alford playing at the level he has, Collins showing considerable improvement, and Trufant returning from the injury that has kept him out for half the season, this Cornerback unit could be seriously scary next season.

Robert Alford records his pick-six Photo Credit: Bob Andres/AJC

But they maybe overstayed their welcome

The biggest complaint you can hold to the defence is that they just couldn’t get off the field in the second half. Brady and the Patriots were given over 40 minutes worth of offense over the course of the game, which goes someway to explaining how the lead was squandered. While they were opportunistic and purposeful in the first half, they dropped into full prevent mode in the second, giving up huge chunks of yards in the air. You don’t win games like that.

Indulge my ramblings

This is the last point I want to make before I close the book on this season. It’s easy enough to say “at least you got there”, as I’ve heard quite a bit from friends and family members since. I appreciate they’re only trying to console a man broken beyond repair, and I likely will have cried ten times over without their sensitivity. Going into the game game, I was just happy to be there. We’d had an unbelievable season, one that came from nowhere. Getting to the big game was far more than I could have possibly hoped for. But to be 4 minutes from undreamable joy? I thought Wembley 2014 was life toying with me, but this topped it and then some.

We should have won that night. Matt Ryan should have been undisputed in the “elite” conversation. Julio Jones should be unquestionably the best receiver in the league. This young team should have its whole future ahead of it, and the city of Atlanta should have a championship. They blew it. We blew it. But we pick ourselves up, we dust ourselves off, and we go again. Dan Quinn has to look to the mistakes of the previous regime moving forward.

Dan Quinn: Read This Bit

Mike Smith was 10 yards from a Super Bowl appearance. He became so obsessed with righting the wrongs of that game that his judgement became clouded, and managed only 10 wins in two seasons. Dan Quinn cannot forget about the process.  I’m not ready to call this team a lock for Super Bowl LII, I’m not even keen on calling them for the Playoffs, but they have a shot provided they stick to what they’ve done this season, rather than focusing on the heartbreak ending.

Dan Quinn has to rest up and attack next season with a fury Photo Credit: Tim Warner/Getty Images

We have a first place schedule next season, and will likely kick off the season with a replay of this very game in Foxboro. Get back to the grind, maintain the brotherhood, and let the anguish you feel from this defeat fuel you. We’ll get another chance.

I don’t really know what to cover in the off season. Likely be looking at some draft stuff and some free agency stuff, but my knowledge of the college game is lacking. Any ideas are welcome.

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