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How the Falcons coached their way out of a Super Bowl win

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The better team lost in the Super Bowl. Retired NFL defensive lineman Stephen White breaks down one of the worst coaching performances ever seen in a title game.

It took forever for the NFL to finally post the all-22 after the Super Bowl. They had your boy out here fiending. Now that I have had the chance to review that film, I've come to one inescapable conclusion.

I was right.

Oh, if you thought this was going to be a column where I apologized for being wrong just because New England won, you came to the wrong place, jack! Yes, it is a fact that the team I predicted to win the game, the Atlanta Falcons, did not in fact win the game. However, if you go back and re-read my prediction column again, damn near everything I told you would happen in that game, happened.

If you also go back and listen to Ryan Van Bibber and myself on the Onside Kick Family Hour pre-Super Bowl podcast I even cautioned that Matt Ryan might melt down if the game was close and that all bets were off in that situation (I'm never ever forgetting his weird fumble in the NFC Championship game a few years back).

And let me say one more thing before I really get started that's likely to piss some of y’all off: The film also indicates that the better team lost. Atlanta had the better Jimmies and Joes ... on tape.

But hey, the better team loses sometimes.

Shit happens.

The most important thing for me since I am neither a Patriots fan nor a Falcons fan and I get paid to write about football, was that my pregame analysis matched up with what both teams ended up doing during the game. I guess we can assume that Troy Aikman doesn't read my stuff, however, since he seemed to believe that "nobody" thought the Falcons could jump out to a big lead on the Patriots.

As if the red-hot Packers with Aaron Rodgers weren't down 24-0 at halftime just a few weeks ago in the NFC Championship to the same team.

Maybe if more folks watched film instead of repeated the prevailing narrative at the time, they wouldn't be so surprised about things happening that were utterly predictable.

But you ain't heard that from me.

Anyway, just to drive home how right I was, let’s go back and check the tape.

I said Taylor Gabriel would have opportunities on deep passes.

He ends up with three catches for 76 yards, the longest going for 35 yards, and if Matt Ryan had been a little more on target with this throw he likely would have had a touchdown as well.

The guy in blue is falling down, and the guy in the orange circle ends up making the tackle, if that gives you an idea of how bad a throw it was. Still, it went for the aforementioned 35 yards, though!

Who told you Dwight Freeney would have a big game?

Who even told you what pass-rush moves he would use? Speed rush for a sack. Bull to speed for a pressure on the pick-six. Spin move for a big hit on Brady that would end up erased due to a defensive penalty.

And don't act like it was obvious, because Freeney only had three sacks this year, and like I said, how many people were talking about him last week?

Also, Freeney gets that sack on the first play after Ryan fumbled the ball. Had he not gotten pressure, Chris Hogan (green circle) is gonna be open for a touchdown.

Remember when I told you about all the different weapons the Falcons would be able to use on offense?

Well, Ryan completed passes to seven different Falcons even though he only threw the ball 23 times.

So the Falcons had another game where they gave up more points in the fourth quarter than they had the three previous three quarters combined?

Damn, that sounds familiar.

I also seem to recall telling you that pressure isn't Matt Ryan's kryptonite, but that if he was going to make a big mistake it would usually be under pressure.

And that I expected the Patriots to try to blitz him, where blitz means send more than four rushers, quite often. Well, out of 30 pass plays, New England sent five or more 11 times.

On another seven plays they ended up only rushing four, but it was the result of some players dropping and some players coming from off the line of scrimmage.

Add it up and the Patriots wanted it to at least look like a blitz on more than half of Atlanta’s passing plays. They got four of their five sacks on those plays (the fifth came, oddly enough, on a three-man rush) and that crucial fumble and fumble recovery in the fourth quarter.

On the other hand, I heard some folks saying they expected the Falcons to blitz quite a bit, but I seem to recall pointing out to y'all that they don't really do that.

They usually blitz a little more than Seattle, but not much more. Instead, like the Seahawks, they prefer to play their base defense and only sprinkle in some blitzes here or there.

If you told me they would only blitz five times before the game, I would've thought that was about right. In hindsight, knowing that New England ran 73 passing plays and the Falcons still only blitzed five times is a bit worrisome, yes, but quite honestly I'm more confused about the three-man rushes.

And no I don't give a shit that Grady Jarrett got one of his three sacks on a three-man rush. Fuck the three-man rush forever and always as a staff, company, and record label.

Seven times, man. Seven times they went three-man rush for no apparent reason. And then there are these plays where they actually had somebody drop out who could've gotten a sack to rush three. My face is going to be frowned up for days after watching this film. FFS.

See those pictures up above? The guy in the red circle is De'Vondre Campbell and he can actually rush the passer pretty well for a linebacker. The Patriots also didn't even bother to account for him on this play.

But he ended up dropping to cover green grass.

And the Falcons did this several times.

Like, on one of them Campbell finally decides: "Hey, why not go hit Brady since nobody is going to block me and it’s kinda boring back here in coverage after five seconds." He still got there in time to get a hit on Brady, but they called holding on the secondary anyway.

I said I'd never call a three-man rush against Brady, and I for damn sure meant it. I have no idea how the Atlanta defensive staff thought it would work out.

*checks current NFL news*

Oh, yeah.

Also, I damn sure told you those rookie linebackers Campbell and Deion Jones could fly, didn't I? I know James White caught 14 balls for over 100 yards, but I still thought the linebackers did a decent job on him for the most part.

Except those two passes White caught right before he scored the game-tying touchdown on a run at the end of the fourth quarter. I had to laugh because the Falcons played zone (I think it was cover 3) two times in a row, so the Patriots lined up in the same formation and ran the same play twice in the row because both times nobody could figure out who should cover White in the short seam area. That's taking advantage of an opportunity right there. Nobody better than New England at that.

If all else fails, the Falcons still had Julio Jones and, like I said he would, when it was time to win the game that guy can go and make the play you need in crunch time.

Just a damn shame that Dan Quinn pissed the game away.

Letting them off the hook

I will admit I wasn't right about everything. I definitely thought the Falcons would run more than one fullback lead play all game. They probably should have, especially when they were trying to milk the clock at the end.

I also thought they would throw to Mohamed Sanu more, which they also probably should have done. Definitely didn't see them playing as much man-to-man as they did (51 out of 73 passing plays).

What I was most wrong about, however, and what ultimately did Atlanta in, was how Dan Quinn would handle a big moment at the end of the game after losing to the Patriots in the Super Bowl a couple of years ago.

I never would have guessed in a million years that after Quinn had a bird's eye view of what happens when you throw the ball in a Super Bowl when the situation calls for running it, that he would turn around and make the same damn mistake.

To be clear, Quinn blew that game. Straight up blew it. The shit was over. Kneel three times, kick a field goal, and go home with a Lombardi Trophy. Hell, if they just kneel on third down after the sack and kick the field goal, it would probably still be live in the A right now.

I give the Patriots props for fighting their asses off and coming back to win, but after what should have been Julio's game-winning catch, they were fucking done.

Then Quinn let them off the hook.

I'm not absolving the players for that epic choke job. I will get to some specific plays here in a minute where they had opportunities to close out the game and didn't, but you can go back through the history of football and not find very many drives that end worse strategically, let alone execution wise, as the end of that Falcons drive. There just isn't a rational reason for even trying to throw the ball at all.

Not on second down.

For damn sure not on third down!

The fact that Ryan got sacked on second down when they tried to throw and lost 12 yards was some football karma for your ass. I would've thought that would've been enough for Quinn, after years of folks calling out the Seahawks for not giving the ball to Marshawn Lynch at the 1-yard line, but NOAP. The Falcons tried to throw it again and ended up with a holding call that knocked them out of field goal range for their trouble.

That's on the head coach.

Did I mention that Atlanta's starting right tackle, Ryan Schraeder, was out of the game with an injury at this point? Because he was. That's right, with Tom Compton in the game, these idjuts decided to throw the ball on second and third downs instead of running it and making history.

Pretty much everything that happened after that shouldn't even count because the game should have been over.

But it did count. That's why they had a parade up in Boston rather than Atlanta.

One more chance

What if I told you the Falcons still had a chance to win at the end of regulation, though?

Check out this play.

This is the last third down of the night for Atlanta’s offense. I realize not many people even remember this play, aside from the fact that Ryan almost threw an interception under duress, but uhmmm yeah ...

That dude in the green is Sanu and he's fixin’ to be wide-ass open down the middle of the field because the Patriots tried to get cute with some Tampa 2 coverage. That guy in the purple circle? He is like the middle linebacker in Tampa 2, and if a receiver is even with the deep middle guy running up the seam vs. Tampa 2, he's leaving.

All Ryan has to do is just chuck this one up, let Sanu go get it and we’re talking about the wild finish to the Super Bowl. Instead, the Falcons left their broke-leg center, Alex Mack, on an island with Trey Flowers when the Patriots only rushed three. They got almost immediate pressure on Ryan, forcing him to throw it elsewhere.

It was only 18 seconds left, bruh.

Good grief.

How do you feel about that, Falcons fans? Is it feeling like Salt Bae is sprinkling salt down his forearm right into an open wound?

Well hell, lets go back and reminisce and play devil's advocate on a few more plays to really get you nauseated.

Remember the sack and forced fumble from Dont'a Hightower (red circle) when Devonta Freeman whiffed? That's Taylor Gabriel in green about to get down the field in a hurry. The Patriots’ safety (purple circle) is breaking up on the other guy in the cutting route. It’s off to the races if Freeman gets his block here.

Still not sick enough?

Y’all let Tom Brady run for 15 yards on a third-and-friggin-8 because of shitty pass-rush lanes. The longest rush of his career only went for 22 yards, and that was way back in 2006!

In the top picture, the guy in the green circle is Julio. Now, it might look like he is being doubled by the guy in blue, Malcolm Butler, but actually Julio is in man-to-man. The guy in purple, Patrick Chung, is looking up the other route and not breaking at all.

As you can see from the bottom picture, Chris Long is being blocked just fine by Jake Matthews and Jones is open enough for Ryan to just dump it to him, take the 5 or more yards so Atlanta can kick the game-sealing field goal. For whatever reason, he waits just long enough for Matthews to get hit with a verrrry suspect fateful holding call to knock them out of field goal range.

Some help from the refs

Let me say this, too: I'm usually not big on blaming the refs for a win or a loss. The refs may suck, but usually they suck for both teams. However, I do have a couple of questions for the crew from last Sunday.

I just gotta ask, if you can call that holding on Matthews, why not call this one on Chung (red circle against Austin Hooper) on third-and-33 on the next play?

Or how about this egregious high/low at the point of attack on the screen in the red zone in overtime? It’s hard for even good offenses to recover after 15-yard penalties most of the time.

And hey, I know it was the first overtime in Super Bowl history and everybody was probably ready to get their after party on, but I'm not sure how you miss a hold this egregious when the blocker yanks the guy from behind and pulls him to the ground on his back.

I'm not saying.

I'm just saying.

Of course, I could not end this film review without giving a shout out to both Trey Flowers of the Patriots and Grady Jarrett of the Falcons who had 2.5 and 3 sacks, respectively, in the game.

Flowers also had that pressure at the end of the game that I mentioned before from a zero nose. He may have saved that victory for New England. He was just beating people up all game against the run and the pass. Both of those young cats look to be destined for greatness if they can stay healthy.


OK, so I got that all out of my system and now I feel better. How about you? I don't mind picking the wrong team to win the Super Bowl, but when the team I picked just pisses away the game, it is frustrating. I am not knocking the Patriots at all. I have a great deal of respect for all they have been able to do in the last decade with Brady and Bill Belichick. Five rings in seven appearances is just nuts!

But just imagine for a moment that Robert Alford actually catches the interception ball that Brady served up with 2:28 left in regulation. How different would the conversation about Brady be if, after being baited into throwing a pick-six earlier in the game, he threw the game-ending interception into double coverage?

That play literally swung from a third Brady Super Bowl loss to a gain of 23 yards. Atlanta was so shell shocked that they weren't ready for the next play and gave up another 20 yards.

If that sequence didn't perfectly sum up the end of the end of that game, I don't know what does.

(Also if Keanu Neal hits Edelman after Alford tips the ball up, it’s an incompletion and the Patriots have a second-and-10 at their own 36 rather than a first-and-10 at the Falcons' 41-yard line.)

That's not "hating," that's just being honest. Atlanta lost that Super Bowl more than New England won it. But at the end of the day, it doesn't matter. The Patriots have yet another ring to add to their collection and the Falcons are stuck asking themselves what the fuck happened.

Such is life when it comes to sports, but that doesn't make it any easier to accept. So yeah, I got the winner wrong, but most of the rest of the stuff came to pass. I just didn't account for Dan Quinn choking when it mattered most.

Congratulations to Joel Thorman, our resident NFL Blogfather, for winning the picks challenge this year.