The Atlanta Falcons will take their place among the greatest chokers in pro sports history after blowing a record 25-point lead in Super Bowl LI to the New England Patriots, 34-28. And history says they won’t get close to another chance next season.
Only twice in the previous 50 Super Bowls has the losing team won it all the following season — the 1971 Cowboys and 1972 Dolphins. Losers are 2-48 overall, with 44 seasons in a row of not winning it all the next season.
Even getting back to the big game the next season is highly unlikely. It’s only happened five times — the 1974-75 Vikings, 1986-87 Broncos and the 1990-91-92-93 Bills. Figure that any other NFC team next season has a better chance to make it to Super Bowl LII than Atlanta.
Losses are hard to overcome on such a big stage and the good fortune that led a team to the Super Bowl one season often deserts them the next. And with their historic collapse in Super Bowl LI in overtime, the Falcons have set a standard for failure that is hard to match. This loss will weigh on them all offseason and into the next one and be mentioned like a zillion times.
The previous largest deficit overcome in a Super Bowl was 10 points. The Falcons led 28-3 with 8:31 left in the third quarter and their win probability was 99.7%. It was 99.6% with nine minutes left in the fourth quarter. That is a choke job that will be hard to beat.
The Patriots never quit and deserved to win, but in a game like this it’s much more about the team that lost. An NFL team simply should never blow a 25-point lead, let alone with 23 minutes left in the game. This wasn’t the 0-16 2008 Lions we’re talking about either, it was the NFC champs. I predicted a six-point Patriots win but never thought it’d be like that.
There were a dozen plays that, had they gone the other way, would have ensured a Falcons win. We had a miracle catch by Julian Edelman on a ball that easily could have been picked. But the biggest sequence was Atlanta not playing for a field goal late in the game that likely would have sealed it.
The Falcons had 2nd down and 11 from the Patriots 23 with 4:40 remaining. They also have a clutch field goal kicker in Matt Bryant, who had made 92% of his kicks this season and was 9-9 from between 40 and 49 yards; a kick from the 23, for example, would be 41 yards.
They should have run the ball twice and, if short of the first down, kick a field goal to go up 31-20. Running the ball would have forced the Patriots to burn their timeouts and made a comeback all but impossible.
As James Surowiecki on the New Yorker wrote on Twitter: “Pro Football Reference says your win probability if you're up by 11 with 2:00 to go is 99.97%.”
But the Falcons had Matt Ryan drop back to pass and he took a bad sack. There was a hold on the next play and the Falcons were suddenly out of field goal range and had to punt. They also left the Patriots with two timeouts and more than two minutes on the clock. It was a monumental coaching blunder.
The Falcons will have to live with this defeat forever and who knows if they’ll ever recover. I’ll bet a lot of money though that should they ever win a Super Bowl, it won’t be next year.